Friday, May 12, 2017

HotDocs '17 Film Review - 69 Minutes of 86 days

One image likely comes to mind when a large section of the public thinks of the struggles of Syrian refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to get to  Europe. It's the image of 3 year old Alan Kurdi lifeless body being carried up from the shore by a Turkish police officer. The image was broadcast all over the world; the event played a key part in turning a federal election in my home country of Canada.  Director Egil Haskjold 's film starts on the Greek shoreline following a different Syrian family as they embark on a journey from the pebbled shoreline to Sweden where they plan to settle amongst other family relatives.

Haskjold basically sets down his camera at a meter off the ground and lets the action unfold. The opening shots are of the surf followed by life vests and water shoes as the framing moves to a makeshift tent city beside the shoreline. The lens soon finds its way to Lean a three year old girl whose eye line matches the low angle shooting style signaling that a good part of the action will be seen from her point of view.

Over the next 65 minutes the family will spend time in medical tents, food lines, red cross facilities, checkpoints, trains, buses, boats and cars. All though the journey Lean is mostly upbeat raising the spirits of her weary family members clad in a plaid winter jacket along with her ever present Frozen knapsack. The efforts of the parents to keep things normal for their kids despite their struggles is notable. Teddy Bears are ported among other toys for the children to play during downtime, long lines or a delay at a screening facility.

Director Haskjold does not give any direction to the proceedings. There are no interviews, no voice over, no text online to announce to the audience where the family is at any point of the journey. The viewer has to play detective looking for clues. Dialogue where the family mentions a city name or country or looking at road signed or names on transport vehicles throughout the piece.

The low angle perspective is a different approach to shoot the majority of a film and takes a bit of  getting use too. But once the viewer buys into the charming Lean's perspective of the world looking though the tangled legs of adults. The shooting decision makes sense coupled with no translation of dialogue and no location prompts. The viewer is swept up into the whirlwind disorienting trip that it must be for a Syrian refugee forced to grab what they can carry, hop on a rafts to an unsure future on a far away continent where you likely don't speak the language.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

69 Minutes of 86 Days | Egil Haskjold Larsen | Norway | 71 Minutes.

Tags: Syria, Refugee, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Red Cross, Ferry, EKG, Tent City.

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