Friday 29 September 2017

Sea Sorrow - a film about the refugee crisis

Sea Sorrow, a documentary film directed by Vanessa Redgrave and produced by Carlo Nero,

at the Megaron Mousikis, Athens.

This feature documentary on the refugee crisis is Redgrave's directorial debut. The film begins with a series of devastating interviews in which young immigrants recount the story of how they came to live in Italy. The element of perspective is central to Redgrave's message from the start and only grows increasingly more so as she contextualises this current exodus in the greater history of humanitarian crises: the rounding up of Jews across Poland;  the massive exodus of Jews during the Holocaust; the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as a response to the above; the absorption of thousands of refugees during the Hungarian uprising - are all a reminder that this is not a new situation. The point is made forcibly that political convenience should never be prioritised over basic humanity.

Redgrave recalls the wartime role her parents played in trying to secure visas for Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany: 'if you know the history you're horrified by how obdurate the Chamberlain government was. Scandalous on anybody's terms and I'm afraid we're in the same situation today'.

An important part of the film is the plight of children in the Calais 'jungle' and Lord Dubs' efforts in the House of Lords to compel the last government to increase the number of children allowed in.  Dubs is furious at the heavy-handed way the Calais camps were demolished and their inhabitants moved on, a display of police power he attributes to the local need to appease the Le Pen National Front. He adds that fascism should rather be stood up to.

The insightful commentary offered by dramatist Martin Sherman was one of the most powerful aspects of the film for me. He persuasively argued that the refugee camps are occupied by people in a communal state of shock: pure adrenaline and courage have carried them on their horrible journey on which they have had to suppress their normal human reaction of the death of family members on the road. Now marooned at their journey's end in Calais, they are suffering a new unfolding trauma. But, now that they are stationary, the adrenaline has dropped, and they are left in a state of shock.

The film's title, taken from one of Prospero's monologues in The Tempest (and performed here by Ralph Fiennes) reminds us that even the Duke of Milan could be reduced to a man who survived certain death by floating on the 'rotten carcass' of a boat. The message is loud and clear: this could happen to any of us.

All proceeds from the screening of the film will go to Medicins Sans Frontieres and Safe Passage.

There was a discussion after the screening of the film. Members of the panel included Vanessa Redgrave, Alfred Dubs, Carlo Nero, (Redgrave's son and producer of the film), the head of Medicins Sans Frontieres in Greece, Praxis (a Greek organisation who works with and for groups that face social exclusion, including refugees), Mimi Denise, (director and actor), the translator and the chair.

The discussion was interesting and thought-provoking. Vanessa Redgrave was clearly very moved. She talked briefly about the making of the film and her intention to put the fight for the rights of refugees at the centre of her activism.

Alfred Dubs talked about his own experiences as a child on the Kindertransport. He talked about how the Greek people are in the vanguard of providing help for the refugees. This was reiterated by the rest of the panel and the audience, but the point was made that the Greek citizens are on their own in this, as the government has not helped, but continues to follow EU policy on refugees.

Mimi Denise talked about the Greek refugees who fled Asia Minor following the Greek genocide perpetrated by the Turks in 1914-1922. Many of them fled to Aleppo in Syria and what an irony it is that today so many people have to flee Aleppo to get to Greece.

In response to a question by a member of the audience about what we, as citizens, can do to help, Carlo Nero highlighted the situation in Pedion tou Areos, a park in the middle of Athens, near the hotel where they were staying. Refugee children as young as 8 and 10 have to sell their bodies for 3 euro an hour so that they can subsist. He talked about some of those children bursting into tears when they are told that they are too old for what the men who want to buy their bodies have in mind. This is a specific area that Athenians can get involved in by pressurising the government to end this appalling situation.


  1. I hope that everything helps to make the individual lives of displaced peoples more bearable, and leads to better prospects. It seems that as soon as individuals can be gathered into a collective noun they are so much more easily pejoratively dismissed. The publicity for Lubaina Hamid's art is timely.
    I have used three photos of yours today - with acknowledgement, and with a link to your blog - in my latest post which is about one of Lubaina Hamid's pieces.

    1. I hope so too, Olga. I hope that politicians and particularly the EU see that this situation cannot go on. In the last two weeks there's been a huge influx of refugees in Greece, three times the numbers that attempted the crossing in the previous two months. No one knows why, it could be a last attempt before the approach of winter... No one knows what will happen to all these desperate people...