4.1 Miles (2016)
Dir: Daphne Matziaraki
This is a very powerful documentary short that focuses on showing the difficult situation of rescuing refugees from the Aegean sea. Following one boat and its crew, mainly the captain, we see them voluntarily going out to rescue people from the water as they’re left behind by people smugglers.
The film opens with what are almost POV shots, the filmmaker is there on the boat right in the middle of the frantic activity as people are being pulled aboard. There’s no preamble, straight away we’re immersed in the situation and caught up in the chaos and panic of it. Very little needs explanation though we do get some of captain Kyriakos’ thoughts (never directly to camera) as he explains that when 20 people were rescued in 2001 it was big news, now in 2015 it has changed completely. His crew are shown going out repeatedly, filling their small boat with drenched refugees, so many of whom are children.
It’s intense and distressing, especially when there are scenes of CPR being performed on children in the midst of frantic activity in what otherwise looks like a quiet seaside town that would otherwise be an escape for holidaymakers. I found it very effecting and well composed, putting the audience in the middle of the situation and showing what it’s like instead of sitting people in front of the camera talking about it. These images are infinitely more effective than any words could be.
Watani: My Homeland (2016)
Dir: Marcel Mettelsiefen
While also looking at the issues of refugees, this film looks and feels very different. Following one family, we see them living in Syria as the father is involved with the fighting, then again when they have to leave, moving to Germany.
Focusing on the four children and how they adapt to the huge change, this film does follow them over an extended period, giving both ends of their journey. In Syria they have to stop playing to take shelter as bombs are dropped and gunfire rages, so we see why they make the decision to leave and start a new life elsewhere, though their journey seemed to me to be relatively easy. They spend a little time in a refugee camp, but fly from Turkey to Germany where they are more than adequately housed straight away. The relative ease of their relocation was made all the more evident when I saw ‘4.1 Miles’ the next day, which sees people risking drowning to go from Turkey to Europe with no infrastructure in place at the other side if they do get across alive with nothing but the wet clothes they’re wearing.
By pointing this out I don’t mean to diminish the difficulties this family face, more highlight the diversity of stories that are being told and how films this year, especially the documentary shorts, are showing a variety of angles to the incredibly complex refugee problem. ‘Watani: My Homeland’ has some really uplifting moments that show the children adapting well to their new home and being warmly welcomed at school, which are a delight to see in contrast to the fear they were living in before, some of which still affects them. One of the most powerful scenes I’ve seen in any of the documentaries is when one of the girls takes shelter at the sound of a plane flying overhead despite being safe in Germany. Their resilience and adaptability is a hopeful counterpoint to the difficulties that have caused so many to leave their homelands.
Both ‘4.1 Miles’ and ‘Watani: My Homeland’ are competing for ‘Best Documentary Short’ at this weekend’s Oscars alongside another film on similar issues ‘The White Helmets’. They all add to the larger picture and are well worth watching if you get the chance.