Ashur and Khalid Shamis inspecting one of Ashur’s old briefcases in the documentary film. Picture: tubafilms/Big World Cinema
Ashur and Khalid Shamis inspecting one of Ashur’s old briefcases in the documentary film. Picture: tubafilms/Big World Cinema

’The Colonel’s Stray Dogs’: A life in exile from Libya

By Keshia Africa Time of article published Jul 4, 2021

Share this article:

Libyan political activist Ashur Shamis spent many years of his life as an enemy of Muammar Gaddafi, exiled from his home country with a million-dollar bounty on his head.

His Cape Town-based son, Khalid Shamis, has documented the story of his dad’s journey in his new documentary film, The Colonel’s Stray Dogs.

The film was submitted by the Durban FilmMart and will be screened at the Durban International Film Festival later this month.

Khalid grew up in the UK with his parents which is where he studied film. He moved to Cape Town permanently in 2005 and now works as a film editor and mentors and teaches editing and story construction.

Khalid’s mother, Shamela Shamis (formerly Haron), is from Cape Town, and his father is from Libya. His parents met in 1970 and got married in 1972. Their family home in London is where his father took up residence in the UK.

“I grew up in a kind of exilic life,” Khalid said.

In the documentary, Khalid shares the story of his father’s exile, opposition to Gaddafi’s regime, return to Libya after the revolution and being exiled again because of the civil war.

“It is about the dream of Libya, the dream of a home that he had. It looks at the history of modern Libya from his point of view in exile and opposition to Gaddafi.

“This is a personal story of growing up with a father who had a double life, and the film explores themes of home, exile and longing.”

Files and audio cassettes belonging to Ashur Shamis. Picture: tubafilms/Big World Cinema

In 1980, Gaddafi ordered all opponents at home and abroad to be “liquidated”, or killed, and asked all nationalists to find the opponents and liquidate them.

“He called these people stray dogs - that became the official title to those who opposed Gaddafi.

“When my dad returned to Libya and found the old security file that Gaddafi kept on him, the title was, ‘Ashur Shamis Stray Dog’.”

This is where the title, The Colonel’s Stray Dogs of the film comes from.

Khalid sought an understanding of his father’s homeland while exploring the balance between the political and personal aspects of his father’s history.

National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) army training in Chad. Picture: tubafilms/Big World Cinema

Khalid described the filming as being quite tough. Aside from living in Cape Town and having to fly to London to film with his father, it was a time of vulnerability for Ashur.

“It was tough getting him to open up about the personal sacrifice and loss that he experienced. I did not only want to know the historical background of the story, but I was also interested in the personal side - what he sacrificed to get freedom.

“He is my dad and he is an Arab man - there is always reverence to the father. It was hard to break through that as his son. It was not easy interviewing him, but you will see him open up and that as the film progresses, we grow closer.”

When Khalid moved to Cape Town in 2005, he started his first feature-length documentary, Imam and I, which focused on the life of his maternal grandfather, Imam Haron.

Khalid chose to document his father’s life for the same reason that he did his grandfather’s.

“The films that I make are stories that have been in my family and connected to me directly. I feel as if there is a compulsion or an obligation to make these stories come to life.

“When it comes to making films, I can only make what is close to me and my life. The story has always been there, waiting for me to be ready to make it.”

One of Ashur Shamis’ passports. Picture: tubafilms/Big World Cinema

Khalid said that he is honoured that his film will be interviewing at the Durban International Film Festival, among other talented filmmakers.

The 42nd Durban International Film Festival will be hosted virtually from July 22 to August 1 and will be available for free on their website during this time.

Share this article: