Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
The Message – Moustapha Akkad
What motivated you to make this film?
The epidemic refugee crisis with all the deaths of people crossing the sea to Europe, especially the kids photos who die on the shore, they risk their lives paying thousands dollars to people smugglers only to get stuck on a Greek island of Lesvos with no future and closed borders. Knowing that I am the first filmmaker to enter Moria camp on lesvos triggered me to be the voice of the refugees trapped inside bearing all the hardships of production and gaining rare access, which exposed em to huge risks.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
Sony A7s, Drone, Gopro, and Osmo, as well as iPhone Mobile. I hade to use all these cameras to get the best shots on the island of Lesvos and from inside Moria Camp. Knowing that I am the first Filmmaker worldwide who gained rare access to moria camp, and was able to shoot a medium length high quality documentary.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
The “Creative Documentary” style which reports on factual events in a highly cinematic style and delivering the vision of the Director. I used both intimate close shots as well as epic style shots , to deliver both the emotional psychological side as well as the idea of the imprisonment and catastrophe of this situation.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
Triggered by the high number of casualties of refugees who cross the sea to Europe, through paying thousands of dollars to people smugglers then they either lose their lives in the sea or get trapped on the Greek island of lesvos exposed to miserable conditions. Also knowing that I will be the first filmmaker to gain rare access to Moria camp which is the largest refugee camp in Europe, due to high security restriction, it motivated me to be the voice of the voiceless victims inside it. I decided start by uncovering the illegal people smugglers and human trafficking gangs working in Turkey, who smuggle refugees in Europe through potentially deadly journeys on rubber boats, in addition to the fake life jackets industry.
As a filmmaker – and in particular a female – reaching a Smugglers’ network and convincing one of them to talk can be hazardous, as smugglers are often part of dangerous criminal gangs. It required lots of courage and risks for finding a clue, building contacts and several meetings with mediators or agents in between, investigating through tight districts and unknown coffee shops in Turkey, till I finally succeeded in getting one of them to speak on camera. Then, the next step was finding powerful stories from refugees inside Moria camp despite the very difficult accessibility.
Reporting from inside Moria was not an easy task. I ran several times from police and camp security officers, I kept hiding from UN officials and NGOs. I had to enter the camp acting as a refugee sometimes, or as if a volunteer holding my notebook. I had to jump through the fence holes with my cameramen at night to enter the camp, and I had to hide the camera in my clothes and shoot by myself as that was the only option in some areas, especially if it was crowded with police. My aim from this film from the start was to uncover the truth and corruption taking place throughout the whole refugee trail. To give a powerful authentic balanced portrayal of the refugee crisis as a whole, through the crisis of refugees’ deadly sea journeys and the misery of those refugees trapped on Lesvos for an indefinite period of time.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
It was a risky adventure in all phases of production, but it was planned & calculated risk. Uncovering the illegal networks people smugglers operating in Turkey, finding powerful refugees’ stories in Lesvos under very strict conditions, hiding in refugee tents and running from police or Moria camp’s security officers, entering the camp from the fence holes at night, acting as a refugee or as a volunteer sometimes to enter the camp, hiding the camera in my clothes to shoot at times, getting over mountains or in the middle of the water in midnight for some shots, finally the long sleepless editing shifts with the editor and by myself for every single detail to be taken care of with passion, and as an ultimate duty for all those humans in transit who trusted me to be their voice.
The most rewarding experience was getting close to those vulnerable human beings and touch the refugee crisis consequences in person from listening to their stories, witnessing the situation myself, uncovering the illegal smuggling business and the fake life jackets industry, and the violations against refugees’ rights and the 1951 refugees convention.As well as revealing many unreported places like Moria camp itself (as the first filmmaker to gain access to it), the life jackets graveyard or refugees cemetery, the places that stand there as witness on the whole crisis.
What advice can you give to other filmmakers?
First advice will be about the true meaning of objectivity. As a Filmmaker and reporter who puts the humans first, I believe in one definition for Objectivity, that I choose to be in the side of the victim, to be the voice to the voiceless, to deliver the message of the vulnerable. It means I stand by the ones who are the harmed and oppressed. Objectivity for me is to make the human the center of my story, and then the political causes the second.
Second, Try to focus on other aspects when it comes to refugee reporting, to include all elements that give a balanced narrative at the end and defy stereotypes about refugees.
Third, to be authentic and stay away from abusing people or stories for any personal branding or unethical purposes, as being a filmmaker places a responsibility upon the filmmaker towards the individuals who trusted him/her to be their voice.
Fourth, A Documentary Filmmaker is a hunter, capable of capturing real life events and transforming them with the best storytelling approaches to a filmmaking piece that captures and evoke the senses of the audience. Documentaries are a great tool to report on real life but in the compelling cinematic rhythm of a film.
Documentary filmmaking is a challenging job, you need to have several skills and be ready to multitask. You are partially a Journalist and Reporter, and partially a Writer, Director and Producer. And the reality is that other tasks can be added to the list too like shooting and editing yourself when needed. The flexibility and luxuries settings of other kinds of filmmaking or having big crews may not be present.It is about a message, and you are the messenger. The story is important, but how you will tell it is what matters; context is a key. It is the filmmaker’s point of view and vision that represents the main ingredient, and how this vision is transferred through every single detail of the film to capture all senses of the audience.
Finally, to stick to the ethics of filmmaking and journalism, in terms of respecting interviewees, fact-checking sources, and respecting copyrights of individuals making sure your piece is original.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
My favorite part is connecting to my characters on a personal level, which is also enhanced by being a female, that gives me more privilege when speaking with women or families. I try to keep a friendly approach with my interviewees, I always make their safety my priority, it is a sense of duty in exchange for their trust in me as their voice to the world. This is the best part for me in doing a film, the human connection and the sense of duty to deliver the message as part of a humanitarian cause.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
My notebook, with all my questions, thoughts, points to consider or even reflections.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
I have many unforgettable memories in making this film, either from inside Moria camp, and the hardships of its access, or with the people smuggler. But the most that affected e the most are the memories of visiting the life jackets graveyard which include the trash from refugees arrivals on shores and the lifejackets of those who died, and the other place was the Refugees cemetery.
The “Cemetery of Refugees” is a place over the hills close to the camp that is meant to bury refugees who die inside of the camp, or anywhere else on the island.
Seeing the room of coffins where their bodies get washed before burial, moving along the tombs that hold their names, and noticing some of the graves for kids. This is one of the most difficult scenes I did and a painfully unforgettable memory.
The tombs hold names written in various languages but always with Greek alphabets beneath, and some graves are without any names, these are for the unknown refugees. Painfully enough I can imagine the families of all these people still waiting their return hoping they may be still alive, while they are buried here in this place.
I got so lost in the place thinking about the idea of the end. I am sure these people have never imagined that their end will be on an island in the middle of the sea over a hill in the forests with a tomb holding Greek alphabets. Each one of them paid all what he owns to flee to Europe where they had so many plans for their future that ended here. I am sure that this soil that hugs their bodies is more merciful than many humans walking on it.
When it comes to moria camp, there is also an incident I can’t forget, I heard a very loud scream of a lady, after running to discover what happened I realized she was trying to suicide by cutting her hands and police was all over the place. Refugees told me it is a normal scenario taking place almost daily, and they got used to it.
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
Reporting from Moria camp was a risky adventure, knowing that I am the first filmmaker to gain rare access to Moria camp and make a medium length high quality documentary under very hostile conditions.
The making of this film was never easy. From the moment of pitching the idea I truly believe in, to the execution to screen. Sleepless nights for several months spent on research, writing a captivating script, reporting from the field under hostile conditions. Uncovering the illegal networks people smugglers operating in Turkey, finding powerful refugees’ stories in Lesvos under very strict conditions, hiding in refugee tents and running from police or Moria camp’s security officers, entering the camp from the fence holes at night, acting as a refugee or as a volunteer sometimes to enter the camp, hiding the camera in my clothes to shoot at times, getting over mountains or in the middle of the water in midnight for some shots, finally the long sleepless editing shifts with the editor and by myself for every single detail to be taken care of with passion, and as an ultimate duty for all those humans in transit who trusted me to be their voice.
Also, As a filmmaker – and in particular a female – reaching a Smugglers’ network and convincing one of them to talk can be hazardous, as smugglers are often part of dangerous criminal gangs. It required lots of courage and risks for finding a clue, building contacts and several meetings with mediators or agents in between, investigating through tight districts and unknown coffee shops in Turkey, till I finally succeeded to get one of them to speak on camera
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
The truth surrounding the refugee crisis.
The truth about the catastrophe of people dying in the sea everyday to reach Europe given that they are not granted legal access according to the 1951 refugee convention, so they jump in a rubber boat in a journey of death abused by illegal smugglers and unethical fake life jackets sellers.
The misery of thousands trapped in transit in the middle of the forests with no future and closed borders
The psychological implications of spending your life in transit for indefinite period of time like suicide , medical complications and violence
The crimes taking place in refugee camps like robbery, knife attacks, prostitution or sexual assault
I want to deliver a message to the world to save these people and all of those who risk their life in an unknown bid for freedom and hope for a better life, it is a human catastrophe that needs urgent action from all political and humanitarian figures.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
The true implications and causes of the Refugee Crisis,
The Migrant smuggling
The human rights violations against refugees in the largest refugee camp in Europe (Moria), that was set only as a transit camp for around 2000 refugees and now used as a permanent camp for 10,000 refugees with no infrastructure.
The European laws and actions against refugees, and the 1951 refugee convention
The EU-Turkey deal which contributed directly to the situation by closing borders
The role of humanitarian organizations in the refugee crisis
Whether Europe is applying the correct solutions or the funds spent on humanitarian workers/aid can be shifted to more efficient solutions.
Changing perceptions and defying stereotypes about refugees in host countries
Positive examples of refugees as shown in the film , those who volunteer to give others what they truly lack the most.
Courage in journalism as a female filmmaker who gained rare access to this camp with full set of professional equipment to be the voice to the voiceless, as well as uncovering illegal smuggler networks
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?
– Investigations by public health inspectors took place after the release of the film
– Many statement by UN and other organizations regarding the miserable situation inside Moria after the film
– News that this camp will be facing closure due to extreme human rights violation after the film
– Many reporters and filmmakers started to shift their focus to Moria producing some short pieces about it and about the island of lesvos.
– Several news organizations like CNN, BBC, DW and others started to write articles and make short news pieces about the situation in Lesvos,
– Many organizations contacted me to give testimonials of what I witnessed in details beside the film to take action.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
Please contact me for more details.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
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