Some time ago, I saw a new picture of the earth seen from the moon. The first thought that comes to your mind is: “This is wonderful!”
But imagine that you are an alien and you don’t know what you are actually looking at. To you, it’s just a beautiful, colorful planet hovering in the space. It looks peaceful. It’s hard to imagine that this amazingly beautiful ball has a lot going on. Once you get the possibility to land anywhere on earth, you will realize that what seems so quiet and peaceful is actually just an illusion. You’ll see laughs and tears, love and hate, war, suffering, happiness and sadness that you cannot even suspect just by looking at its surface from the moon.
I go to ASTRA documentary film festival (for the 3rd time already this year) to get possibility to fly from a country to country and learn things I had no idea about. Sometimes, it is hard to face the reality, sometimes it brings smile to my face, but it gives me possibility to hear “stories behind stories”. In 21st century, it’s not the information that we lack, but the perspective of an ordinary person who will bring a big story to you as something personal and easier to connect with (Logo of ASTRA reflects this idea as well).
So, come with me and explore different countries through the eyes of documentary film characters and then, through my eyes. Are the documentaries subjective? Yes, they are, but personal stories and experiences started to matter more to me than finding the ultimate truth that is anyway impossible to agree upon.
Note: I tried NOT to include spoilers
TRAPPED BY LAW, 2016, 90’
The action takes place mainly inKosovo
This documentary follows Kosovo Roma brothers that were deported from Germany to Kosovo unexpectedly despite spending their whole lives in Germany. You get to experience with them what it means to be forced to “drop your identity” one day, for no obvious reason. However, brothers keep their spirits up, joke around and try to make the best out of the situation. They remain faithful to rap music they are writing and don’t lose hope of returning back to Germany.
In this film you can clearly see how impersonal and unfair the law can be sometimes. Once you are trapped by it, it is hard to find your way out, however absurd it may sound. A lot of questions related to second generation immigrants are raised: What matters more, your origins or or the country you have been raised in? Why do we even have to choose? What do you do when you find yourself trapped in your origin country but you don’t have anything in common with it anymore?
For me, as a person who had to deal with the EU immigration law to some extent, this film had an important personal value. The documentary motivated me to do a small internet research about EU law and to find out whether or not you automatically receive the citizenship if you are born in EU. It turns out that in majority of cases, you don’t.
Sometimes it seems to me that your passport owns you and not the other way around.
SONITA, 2015, 91’
The action takes place mainly in Iran and Afghanistan
This film about a young Afghan girl, Sonita, just kept my eyes “glued” to the screen wishing for her to fulfill her dreams. She is a girl who lives in Iran, far from her family in Afghanistan, but the harsh traditions that rob women of their rights still haunt her. Her family wants to marry her in order to receive some money from the potential husband’s family.
Aside from being a smart and beautiful Afghan girl, Sonita is a hip-hop artist with a talent of expressing her and her friends’ deep feelings. As you can probably guess, female rappers are not that common in Afghanistan or Iran and singing is considered as something highly indecent. Sonita’s resilience is something difficult to comprehend, yet a great example to look up to. When the whole society, traditions and your family are against your aspirations, it’s very easy to tell yourself that it’s not worth it and just give up your dreams, but that’s not what she does. Even though she is 16 at the time of filming, she seems to have more inner strength than many grown-up women do.
On one hand, her story is very sad because it reflects the reality in traditional societies like Afghanistan and Iran, where women’s faiths are decided by her parents or brothers, but on the other hand, it inspires me and probably every girl that watched it to see a woman standing up for her rights. Sonita is a character that no fiction movie would be able to create. She has almost constant smile on her face that might not be the cheerful smile. To me it reflects her inner strength and a sense of humor she has towards life and her tragic situation. In short, it is a film worth your time!
AMONG THE BELIEVERS, 2015, 84’
The action takes place in Pakistan
This film lets us take a closer look at radical Islam and try to understand its roots and devastating consequences.
At a radical Islamic school Red Mosque in Pakistan, thousands of children are taught to devote their lives to jihad. The filmmakers managed to have multiple conversations with the leaders of Red Mosque and listen to their opinion about how jihad is the only true way of living and that this truth should be extrapolated to whole Pakistan and then the whole world.
“Among the Believers” shows how complex these problems are. On one hand, families that send their children to Red Mosque because of poverty, as they believe kids receive free food there. On the other hand, members of Red Mosque whose belief in what they are teaching is strong like a rock and almost impossible to change. In addition, the state that tries to solve the problem of violence with more violence which of course, is not effective. As a spectator, I felt helpless. It really seems that certain problems have gone so far that solution is more than hard to find. However, absence of obvious answers doesn’t mean that we should not be informed about these events.
ALISA IN WARLAND, 2016, 74’
The action takes place in Ukraine
Alisa is a Ukrainian girl who finds her life upside down after the revolution in Kiev. This film shows how a young woman can be a filmmaker, soldier, lover and just a girl who tries to figure out how to help her country and find her role in the craziness of war.
Of course it was very emotional for me to watch this film because of the short war in 2008 in Georgia with Russia.
During the Q & A session we had the possibility to talk to Stephane Siohan, that is also a character in the movie as Alisa’s boyfriend and is a French journalist that has been also working in Ukraine. He shared with us that it was difficult for Alisa to draw a clear line between filmmaking and being an active participant of the events. I expressed my admiration for Alisa’s courage to film the documentary since I have heard the noise of bombs only once in my life back in 2008 and my only reaction was fear and sleepless nights.
After this difficult journey, we can go back to the moon and keep staring at the earth from far away. Next time ASTRA takes us on a journey inside the brain of human being.
My article about the last year edition: Don’t Breathe, this is ASTRA!