DIRECTED by: Federica Foglia
11,000 refugees have been stranded for months in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek/Macedonian border. This short documentary is a glimpse of their lives in a forgotten twilight zone, as they wait for the European borders to open.
What was a unique challenge you faced in making this film?
There were many challenges, right from the genesis. I was volunteering in a refugee camp. I did not go there to make a film. I went to Greece as I couldn’t take the news of the refugee crisis anymore. The first big challenge was to decide if I should go ahead and film what was happening around me. For days I was conflicted whether to film or not. I did not want to be an intruder. The refugees were living distressed lives. But then something inside me pushed me to do it. It was too big a tragedy to leave it unfilmed, I wanted to bring their plight to the attention of people around the world. Another moral challenge was seeing people in distress and have to decide whether to film them, or intervene to help them. I always dropped the camera and intervened. I remember one day when I saw a very fragile, 4 year old girl put a cigarette between her lips and tried to light it and it was like a punch to my stomach, a feeling of total defeat for the human race. This child standing alone, unsupervised, with no shoes on, in the middle of nowhere. So I dropped the camera and ran to stop her doing this.
Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
More than being inspired, I felt it was a moral duty which pushed me to make this film, simply as a witness. I did not have anything pre-planned as I said, so I dealt with the filming in a very spontaneous way, simply pointing my camera towards the things that seemed to me the most important at that moment. As I was going through the refugee camp it seemed to me that I was witnessing in real life all the documentaries on the Holocaust that I had seen on TV. That’s also why my film is in black and white – because I wanted to remind people that this is a story that we know already, from the past… a past we haven’t learned from apparently.
Who are your top influences?
My influences are mainly in fictional and narrative filmmaking rather than the documentary. I love filmmakers like Werner Schroeter, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Leos Carax, Abbas Kiarostami. Kiarostami’s first short films especially reminded me a lot of the children I met in the camps. There is a special moment in my film that reminds me a lot of the movie “The Traveler” by Kiarostami, but I only noticed this once the film was finished.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
I would love audiences to be reminded that everyone’s existence is fragile. They should feel outrage that the basic human rights for refugees are not being respected. Refugees have the right to asylum. The majority of the refugees had a wonderful life that suddenly turned into a living hell. We all should feel much more than empathy; we should feel outrage. Being European, I know that my continent was devastated by two world wars. Many Europeans became refugees. There was a massive migration of people – millions of people were affected. It seems a remote thought now to most of us, but what if this happened in your country? How would you want to be treated if you were a refugee? Would you want the world to help you, or think of you as a threat and build a wall to keep you out? As the contemporary philosopher Thomas Cristiano says, “It is a fundamental duty of the international community to help out with the refugee problem. This means that one must accept some risk. Morality is never without cost nor is it risk-free. But we owe it to our fellow human beings.”
What’s your personal takeaway from this production?
I entered the Idomeni refugee camp with some preconceptions generated by the media. I discovered a reality that was much more intricate, more human. I discovered dignity, a sense of pride and communion, great strength, the ability of still being able to smile, the endless hope of the refugees, and above all, their generosity. Walking around the camp, I was given fresh fruit and so many flowers. One day I was leaving the camp and I heard a little girl calling out to me, “My friend! My friend!” That’s one of the few English expressions the children know and they use it all the time to attract our attention. I thought, “I hope this little girl is not coming to ask me for food or cookies because I’ve given everything away and have nothing to give her.” As she approached me she said, “My friend, for you.” And, she offered me a little wild daisy and ran off through the fields, without asking for anything.
After leaving the camps, I went to visit the Parthenon in Athens for the first time. It felt surreal to be in the country known as the cradle of civilization and democracy. Centuries later it has been transformed into a purgatory for lost souls.