Croatian film festival gets round COVID-19 by going online

UNHCR and its partners in Croatia are turning to online solutions to reach the public and support refugees through the current health crisis

Spring is in the air and it should be festival time in Croatia but the global coronavirus crisis, compounded by Zagreb’s worst earthquake in 140 years, has severely limited life for everyone.

Not to be defeated, UNHCR and its partner the Festival of Tolerance (FOT) are bringing some of the best refugee-related films of recent times to viewers stuck at home via a free online programme.

“The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate. Why should you?” says the revised film programme, called “The Festival of Tolerance and UNHCR Croatia Recommend…”

Otvaranje 13_FOT_SC kino

No packed theaters at this year's festival


A screenshot from Feras Fayyad’s 2017 documentary Last Man in Aleppo, that is part of the festival's program

Films on offer include Last Man in Aleppo, directed by Feras Fayyad, a documentary about the White Helmets rescue organisation in Syria, and the award-winning film Uvoz (Import), directed by Ena Sendijarević. This tells the story of a Bosnian family given refuge in a small Dutch village. In fine Balkan tradition, one absurd situation leads to another as the newcomers try to adapt to an unfamiliar environment.

Altogether 20 movies will be available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through April and May on FOT online platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“At this difficult time, more than ever, we know how important home is; a place of safety, comfort, intimacy and joy,” said FOT director Nataša Popović. “We are all worrying about coronavirus but humanitarian issues have not gone away. In cooperation with UNHCR, we recommend films for our long days in isolation that emotionally address the subject of refugees.”

“The worst of crises requires the best of humanity. Refugees need – we all need – solidarity and compassion now, more than ever before,” said Giuseppe Di Caro, UNHCR’s Representative in Croatia.

Like citizens all over the world, Croatians are living in partial lockdown because of the coronavirus. As of 23 April, the government had confirmed 1,981 cases and 48 deaths in the country. The virus has not been detected among asylum seekers or refugees, who are included in general, national measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

On top of coronavirus, people in the capital of Zagreb are struggling with the aftermath of an earthquake on 22 March that killed a child, injured 20 and caused considerable destruction. No refugees or asylum seekers were affected.

As the crisis grips, UNHCR and its partners have adapted their activities in line with advice from health authorities. This may mean working remotely but it does not mean being remote from those in need.

UNHCR and its partners continue to support refugees and asylum seekers. Legal advice and psychological counselling are being given, if not face to face then online or over the phone.

Refugees and asylum seekers are included in the government response to COVID-19. UNHCR has supported the authorities by delivering sanitizers to two adult centres in Zagreb and Kutina and two homes for unaccompanied children in Zagreb and Split.

When it comes to the virus, there is a realisation that nobody is immune and refugees and locals share the same risk.

“While we fully understand fears associated with the spreading of the disease, discrimination cannot be the answer,” Di Caro said. “The coronavirus does not discriminate. The sick include holidaymakers, international businesspeople and even national ministers, located in dozens of countries spanning all continents.”