CineLink Talks session “How Contemporary Cinema Portrays Those Forced to Flee?” organized on 16 August within the 28th Sarajevo Film Festival, has gathered more than 30 cinematographers, UNHCR representatives and other individuals who work directly with persons forced to flee their homes, to discuss the cinema industry’s role in the portrayal of refugees and asylum-seekers. Moderated by Danielle Turkov-Wilson, Founder and CEO of Think-film Impact Production / UK
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is witnessing that the number of people forced to flee their homes fearing for their lives is constantly increasing. Over the past decade that number has increased to the highest since the recording began.
At the end of 2021, the number of people forced to flee stood at 89.3 million, well over double the figure of 10 years ago. Since then, the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II, with millions of persons displaced in and out of Ukraine. With other major emergencies like Venezuela, Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan and Afghanistan – to name only a few – the current figure of persons who had to flee rose to 100 million.
In recent years, a number of films portraying the struggle of refugees and asylum seekers have been produced, many of which were critically acclaimed, and many of which the audience of Sarajevo Film Festival had an opportunity to watch during the festival in previous years.
Films can be a means of individual and social transformation. With powerful images, with harrowing, moving, heart-warming stories, through emotions, films touch us, teach us, can inspire us, provoke us, make us think. Cinema is also a form of art that can reach wide audience and that is why the trust in the information conveyed through film is crucial. And while recognizing and respecting the freedom of the artist, it is also important to remind filmmakers of their responsibility.
“Refugees can be portrayed in many different ways. And actually, refugees are people just like you and me. I like to say that I am also quoting here actor and film director George Clooney during one of his speeches during which he referred to Bosnia. So yes, anyone can become a refugee and it is important to understand that the way refugees are portrayed in film can produce understanding and acceptance, but it may also produce prejudice toward refugees. In that sense, filmmakers have the responsibility and the power to be part of the solution, and they can facilitate cohesion between people who had to flee their country and host communities,” said Hugues Bissot, UNHCR Senior Protection Officer in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
UNHCR has many testimonies of positive and inspiring examples showing the positive influence that refugees and asylum-seekers can have on their communities, socially and economically. Refugees can definitely make a contribution to the society they live in. Some of the greatest contributors to our society were refugees, they were journalists, writers, poets, philosophers, musicians, painters, political figures, physicists, singers and also actresses and actors or filmmakers. They were Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Freddy Mercury. They were Marlene Dietrich, Melina Mercouri, Milos Forman, Billy Wilder.
Close cooperation between filmmakers, displaced communities and organisations such as UNHCR, is the key to gain trust, and that could have a long-term positive impact, on both the film industry and on those who are forced to flee their homes.
Involving refugees in the process of filmmaking will of course support them but can also be a key to providing authentic narratives. The examples of films presented during this year’s festival, show how successful the final product can be when refugees are involved in various stages of production.
Also, forcibly displaced people should be given the opportunity and encouragement to voice their experiences with filmmakers. This idea is not only to provide film audiences with a fresh and realistic perspective but also to help the refugee community to be heard.
“On behalf of United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, I would like to express our gratitude to all of you filmmakers for choosing to portray refugees and asylum seekers in your films and for choosing to be part of a solution. Our special gratitude goes to the organizers of the Sarajevo Film Festival who were referred to as heroes by Mads Mikkelsen on Sunday. May the partnership with UNHCR be a symbol of all the great movies to come that portray refugees and involve refugees in their making,” Bissot concluded.
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