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Welcome to the Smiling Coast

The Netherlands

Emiel Martens Film scholar, lecturer and producer

  • Added 3 years ago to OS XIV 2016

    Welcome to the Smiling Coast offers a rare insight into the lives of 15 youngsters moving within the informal sector of the Gambian tourism industry.

    Although the smallest country on the African mainland, the Gambia has become a popular tourist destination due to its warm climate, abundant wildlife and cheap intimacy.

    Each year over 100.000 tourists, predominantly older European women, visit the Smiling Coast of West Africa in search of this exotic blend of sun, safari and sex.

    Most tourists stay within the comforts of all-inclusive resorts, far removed from the everyday experience of ordinary Gambians.

    In fact, with a third of its population living below the poverty line, the Gambia is at present, 50 years after its independence, one of Africa’s poorest nations.

    Ironically, many Gambians, particularly youngsters, are living only a few steps away from the tourist hotels and beaches.

    Here, in the 'ghetto', they are trying to survive in the margins of the omnipresent tourism industry.

    With this lure of a better future just around the corner, the ‘back way’, the dangerous illegal journey to Europe across deserts and high seas, is always lingering in their minds.

    Do they eventually try their luck abroad or find their peace at home? Welcome to the Smiling Coast shows the varied and often creative alternative strategies Gambian youngsters employ to secure their livelihood.

    Capturing their struggles, hopes and dreams, this documentary puts a human and positive face on the informal economy that lies behind the glitter of the Smiling Coast.