Refugees Welcome – german documentary films about asylum and refugees
Especially the media often make refugees out to be a threat to the status quo. Several politically committed documentary films, however, take a more nuanced look at those people for whom the flight into the unknown is often the only alternative to marginalization, violence or death in their own homelands.
A brief newspaper article begins Philipp Scheffner’s documentary film Revision (2012). In 1992 two Romanian men were shot by German hunters in a grain field in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, near the German-Polish border. In the twilight, the perpetrators explained, they took the Romanians for wild boar; after a short investigation, both were acquitted. The death of the men remains unpunished; the case ended up on the shelf.
Deconstruction of stereotypes
They are seeking freedom, often have idealized ideas of their new home and land in a refugee camp: if you apply for asylum in Germany, you must normally live in a refugee centre for months, sometimes years, and may not move about freely within the country. In recent years political and social protest has increasingly arisen against these conditions. The filmmakers Antje Kruska and Judith Keil have also taken up this issue. In Land in Sicht (i.e., Land in Sight) (2013), they portray three refugees put on involuntary hold until the clarification of their status as refugees and the question whether they will receive a work permit.
Unintentional comedy of prescribed integration
In her film Werden Sie Deutscher (i.e., Become a German) (2013), Britt Beyer accompanied participants in an integration course in Berlin-Neukölln for ten months – in the classroom and everyday life. German immigration law can oblige foreigners who want to live permanently in Germany to take such courses. The curriculum includes not only language acquisition but also a much more complex goal: integration into German society. Werden Sie Deutscher remains on an equal footing with its main characters; the camera registers moods, irritations and the smallest gestures. The skilful montage reveals the absurdity of trying to teach how to become a German in a crash course. Beyer does without explanatory commentary. Thus the viewer can and must make the connections for himself. This “mature” approach to presentation presumes to impose no judgement and deliberately allows the viewer room for the appraisal of what is seen.
Absurdity of the situation works on the viewer
In Can’t be Silent (2013), Julia Oelkers has also decided against a commentary. She documents the tour of the band Strom & Wasser feat. The Refugees, which consists of German musicians and musicians who have fled to Germany from all around the world. The film shows clearly how restricted a refugee’s range of movement is – both physically and emotionally. When he stands on stage, he is an acclaimed star, but afterwards there remains only the way back into the fenced camp and the fear of deportation. Oelkers lets this absurdity work on the viewer. She knows that whoever has once heard Nuri, Revelino and the others will immediately see the issue of “asylum” with different eyes.
is a cultural, political and media scholar and works as a freelance curator, writer and film educator (for, among others, DOK Leipzig and the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival).
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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