Cultural scene

Jugend Rettet – Iuventa: The film

Iuventa © César Dezfuli

After launching a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a fishing trawler, the Berlin-based aid organization Jugend Rettet (“Youth Saves”) have been rescuing refugees in distress at sea since June 2016. Michele Cinque, an Italian documentary filmmaker aboard, has been filming the young German crew of the retrofitted Iuventa as it criss-crosses the Mediterranean on rescue missions. His documentary is to be screened at the Berlinale.

When Italian director Michele Cinque found out about Jugend Rettet on Facebook, he knew in a flash he’d found a story for his next film. So he set off for Malta, where a fishing trawler retrofitted by the Berlin-based aid organization Jugend Rettet lay at anchor. The young German crew were readying for their first mission to rescue refugees in distress in the Mediterranean. They’ve been at it ever since – and intend to keep going till the EU sets up a European programme for that very purpose. In July 2016, just a few minutes before the Iuventa left the Maltese port of La Valletta on its maiden mission, Michele Cinque received permission to come aboard.

From dream to reality

During this first mission, which was christened “Solidarity”, the crew saved 1,388 lives and found two dead. “Solidarity” took these young German men and women to Europe’s external borders– and to their own psychological limits. The robust youthful idealism that imbued them at the outset came up against the stark reality of the life-or-death struggles of the migrants they saved at sea. Dramatic encounters with countless refugees salvaged from overloaded and often sinking boats, the refugees’ first-hand account of atrocities and horrible injustices in Libya and other war zones in the southern hemisphere, as well as the sobering realization in the end that their efforts had not triggered any political action to address the problem took its toll on the young crew’s faith in their undertaking. In the first interview Michele Cinque conducted with Jakob Schoen, a 19-year-old co-founder of Jugend Rettet, in June 2016, before their first mission, Schoen said: “My greatest wish is that we won’t be needed here anymore in the autumn!” This wish did not come true, so they will persevere in their rescue missions until a state-run programme has been implemented to rescue migrants in maritime distress. Until then, the crew have put all their other life plans on hold.

The film asks what happens when youthful idealism comes up against harsh reality. Director Michele Cinque observes with his camera how hope gradually gives way to disappointment. Coming of age always involves leaving some measure of youthful light-heartedness behind. But what is ordinarily a gradual process took place swiftly and intensely on the Iuventa, within the space of a single year. The four hundred hours of footage Cinque shot that year include interviews recorded before, during and after the first rescue mission. They document this transition from a youthful mindset to an adult take on reality, a more mature consciousness and sobering insights.

The members of Jugend Rettet now realize that political change cannot be brought about from a ship in the Mediterranean, it’s a slow-moving process that involves the “long march through the institutions”. And yet the name of the ship and the film, Iuventa (Latin for “youth”), remains a powerful symbol of a new generation that will go far and achieve a great deal because they aren’t waiting for solutions, they’re taking action that is profoundly infused with the core values of their Europe.

The power of a documentary film

Equipped only with his camera, with no film crew backing him up, Michele Cinque is the sole filter through which the story is told – a story of which he himself forms a part: the filmmaker is in the thick of the action. This is often not an easy task, and yet it’s precisely what fascinates him about it: “Documentary filmmaking enables me to identify with a story directly and face the reality I’m filming, which also involves a very personal process of self-discovery. It makes me grow with my stories.” The film conveys the message that, even if our dreams go by the board in coming of age, we mustn’t give up: on the contrary, the film urges us to keep looking at what’s going on in the world and asking questions.

Much of the documentary material is still in post-production, finding its most effective form. “At some point in the production process,” says Michele Cinque, “it has to go its own way, so to speak. I hope it makes it to Berlin, to the Berlinale.” Berlin is not only the site of this major international film festival, it’s also the site of Jugend Rettet headquarters. “This young generation of Berliners carry the history of their city deep within themselves,” says the Italian filmmaker. “They have a very special awareness of what borders mean.” So whilst the Iuventa crew continue to ply the Mediterranean, the film should find its way from there to Berlin – and then out into the world. Its impact should spread worldwide from the once-divided city at the heart of Europe, which holds the promise that there will never be walls again.

Sarah Wollberg
Internet-Redaktion, Goethe-Institut Italy

June 2017

Translation: Eric Rosencrantz
Text: Goethe-Institut, Sarah Wollberg. Dieser Text ist lizenziert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung – Weitergabe unter gleichen Bedingungen 3.0 Deutschland Lizenz.
Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
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