An important lesson we’ve learned on this trip is that finding a subject for a video often comes to you without searching for it. When something or someone grabs your attention, it’s as if life plants you a seed. The only way that seed can grow into a good story is by nurturing it with your own interest and curiosity. The refugee crisis was one of those seeds, but it wasn’t until Istanbul that we decided to deliberately nurture it. Upon arrival in Istanbul, we started to read more about the situation. We read about political news, potential consequences for Europe, moral discussions and about the war. But we felt that one question was being left unanswered: who are these people? We knew that if we wanted to gain a better understanding of the situation we had to talk to refugees ourselves. That’s when we came across this article:
It caught our attention and we visited Pages Bookstore right away. Samer, the owner of the store, is a kind, intelligent man who was willing to tell us about his experiences and Syrian culture.
He also told us that a lot of Syrian people were coming to Pages every day. The next evening he introduced us to Syrian guys from our age. They were poets, students and a math teacher.
We talked for a few hours about professions, interests and what it’s like to flee your country. They wanted to know if we would flee the Netherlands if it were in the same situation as Syria. It made us think for a moment. What if Amsterdam got bombed on a daily basis and several very violent groups would be fighting over the place we call home?
“Of course we would leave,” we answered.“There’s no reason to stay if you risk your life.” “Exactly”, one of them said. “But what if almost every country in the world would deny you access and see you as a stranger?”
If you watch the news or read about Syrian refugees who are fleeing their country, you feel bad for them. But when those same refugees are sitting next to you and ask you a question like that, your empathy reaches a different level. We had no answer to this question and it was still impossible to realise what these people were going through.
The conversations we had with them were very fruitful, but also led to our own dilemma’s. How were we going to tell this story? What were we going to show, that the news didn’t? How were we going to find the balance between aesthetic and reality? We didn’t want to start filming just for the sake of making a video about Syrian refugees. The days leading to shooting the video were marked by asking ourselves ethical questions.
While we were still discussing these matters, Fadil, one of the five guys, told us he really wanted to help us by translating questions and doing interviews. Talking to refugees on the streets was something that came very natural to him. One night, he invited us to help with handing out clothes to the less fortunate group of refugees. It gave us an opportunity to interview a family in their home.
Fadil was a true blessing and became our fixer. Up until that point we had nurtured our seed with drops of water. This guy turned out to be a bucket of plant nutrition. With him on the team, we did around 30 interviews in 5 days.
The aim was to get multiple perspectives by talking to people from different ages and social statuses. Although filming was progressing faster than expected, we had very mixed feelings during these days. It was intriguing but often also hard to hear all these stories. Some were very inspiring, others sad and distressing. Every single one of them had something different to tell. We did discover some similarities however.
One was that nearly every single one of them thought of their skills or potential skills as an instrument to help their country. A guy named Ahmad for example, said that his dream was to work for the Red Cross so he could help other people. A student called Omar wanted to become an archeologist because he believed that if people want to know the future of their country, they need to know their past first. Fadil’s brother said he hoped to complete his study in engineering so he could literally help rebuilding Syria once the war is over. Initially, we thought this caring attitude was a consequence of witnessing the war and so much violence. But later we met Turkish, Iraqi, Libyan and even Israeli people who confirmed that Syrian people are known for their hospitality and helpfulness.
Another commonality that stood out was creativity. We met Syrian illustrators, designers, writers, filmmakers, theater directors, musicians and of course the two poets. We even got invited to an intimate poetry night. Here, we discovered the beauty behind the Arabic language. Though we were the only two non Arabic speaking guys in the audience, we could distinguish anger from humor and experience different emotions through their words. Meeting a huge diversity of creative Syrians made us realise that there are also many artistic people coming to Europe. A filmmaker (who had been in jail for 7 months because he was making a documentary) told us that he was more proud than ever to be a Syrian. He believed that everything that was happening to the Syrian people now would leave them with many stories to tell.
He was right. Thanks to the stories of all these people from different backgrounds, the seed has now turned into a little tree with many different branches. While making steps towards finishing this video, we hope the final result will offer you a better understanding of the situation Syrian refugees are in.