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David Aronowitsch • Director of Idomeni

“I was trying to make a political film by making a non-political film”


- We met up with David Aronowitsch, the director of Idomeni, competing for the Dragon Award in the Nordic Documentary section of Göteborg

David Aronowitsch  • Director of Idomeni

David Aronowitsch’s Idomeni [+see also:
interview: David Aronowitsch
film profile
, celebrating its world premiere at the Göteborg Film Festival, focuses on two Yazidi families fleeing violence at the hands of ISIS. But, predictably, it turns out that leaving the country doesn’t guarantee safety, or even acceptable living conditions, as they spend their days waiting for something to change. We spoke to the director about the feature.

Cineuropa: You show moments that are very intimate, clearly concentrating on the individual experience. What brought you to these people and their stories?
David Aronowitsch:
These families accepted us almost from the start. It will sound like a cliché, but I really got the feeling that it was them choosing us as much as us choosing them. It’s a long process, of course, of building trust and getting used to the camera. But it was quite magical, actually. They have been through a lot. They have seen families getting destroyed by ISIS and experienced it first-hand. Take Yasir – his wife Khalida was imprisoned by ISIS and his child killed. This brutal attack on the Yazidi population is something the world needs to know more about, also when it comes to their situation in camps – first in Turkey, then in Greece [outside the titular village of Idomeni]. They are living in terrible conditions, unable to move forward. At first, there were demonstrations against the closing of the border, with all the biggest outlets covering the event. It seemed like there was hope. But then everyone left – it wasn’t “news” any more. I guess they felt that making this film was important. We didn’t even have to discuss it much.

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A lot has been said about what happens to women captured by ISIS, but you decided not to share too many details. Why? Out of respect for this family?
I didn’t want to burden them. When they reunited, four years after she was captured, we were there – right where they met, at the airport. And also, it wasn’t really the “character” of the film. There is only one interview. I don’t know everything she has been through; I know some things, and maybe one day I would like to talk to her about it. So yes, it was a very conscious decision. A human decision, I would say. It was such a happy moment when they reunited, but also very hard – I think you get a sense of it in the film.

It’s also a bit absurd, with the family greeting her with flowers, as if she had come back from some trip. Nobody knows how to react.
You don’t know how to react. They worked so hard for it to happen; they kept on hoping. And when it finally does, it just takes some time to sink in, you know? There were so many instances during the making of this film when something happy was almost immediately followed by something tragic. The thing is, we are talking about thousands of people, still forced to live in truly horrible circumstances. I have made other movies about this subject, from different perspectives, for many years. I have focused more on institutions and structures in the past, but over time, I started to focus on people. It was a natural step. I was trying to make a political film by making a non-political film. And so, gradually, you get to know the people who are victims of genocide, but also victims of the migrant system.

There is one scene where you sit next to Yasir, instead of looking him right in the eye. Once you started to come a bit closer to them, did your directorial approach change as well?
It was an important decision to include this one interview, to break with the “fly on the wall” approach, even though I don’t really like this expression. But it’s also a bit silly to pretend the camera wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be bound by the form, and it was necessary to get this information, to hear how they lost their one-year-old child. In documentary filmmaking, so much revolves around information – how much you have and how you deliver it to the viewer. Or how much can you leave out? I just wanted to know more. Not as a director, but as me, David. It was the same with [the other family] Nadia and Nawaf. Yasir is a sensitive person; he writes romantic poetry, but sometimes he would come off as a bit harsh. This scene is a way in. I must have seen it a hundred times, and it still chokes me up.

It’s interesting to see that technology plays such a big part in this situation. You rarely see them without a phone, trying to reach their families.
That’s also where they store all the pictures, whole histories of their families. We have this organisation in Stockholm that we called Noncitizen, and together with other filmmakers we are building up an archive. We’re collecting material revolving around this experience of migration, even if it’s from somebody’s mobile. It’s hard to spread the word, but we are working on it. When you are making similar films, you can’t keep your distance. But Khalida was freed in the end. There are so many things we can do.

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