According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (NHCR), global forced displacement had surpassed 84 million in mid-2021 and the numbers are still rising. These widely-acclaimed documentaries, one of which is brought to India by Zee Special Projects show that the refugee crisis cannot just be defined by the statistics. It is also about human beings who have been torn away from their homes, their histories, and their sense of safety and belonging, perhaps forever. ‘Flee’, ‘Born in Syria’, ‘Human Flow,’ ‘First They Killed My Father’ and ‘For Sama’, though set in the diverse geographies including Afghanistan, Syria, and Cambodia, remind us that all human beings deserve to be heard, seen and accorded dignity and compassion. Here is an overview of these moving, real-life stories that are available on various OTT platforms.
Flee: ‘Flee’ is an animated account of the perilous journey of a young Afghan boy Amin and opens with a powerful question, “What does home mean to you?” It then goes on to narrate how Amin who once shut out the world with his headphones while listening to pop songs, can no longer ignore the civil unrest in Afghanistan. He leaves his beloved home forever to flee toward an uncertain future. This journey takes him across continents, till decades later he finds a semblance of normalcy. However, can he truly forget the horrors he and his family have suffered? Can he forget the human depravity and cruelty he has seen? Can he ever feel safe enough to strike roots in one place? Watch this Oscar-nominated Jonas Poher Rasmussen directorial which is about the universally relatable search for a safe place called home. Available on Zee5.
Born in Syria: Bernán Zin’s documentaries like ‘Born in Gaza’ and ‘Born in Syria’ have played a big role in sensitizing the world to the trauma of children displaced by war. ‘Born in Syria’ opens with the visuals of an unsteady dingy packed with crying children and young and old faces marked by fear, desperation and exhaustion. They remind us of the horrors that millions of refugees go through every day. The film documents the stories of seven children whose lives and families have been torn apart. The essence of the film is packed in the words of 13-year-old Marwan, who says, “I believed the worst would be crossing the sea, but having nowhere to go is worse.” Available on Netflix.
Human Flow: Directed by Ai Weiwei, ‘Human Flow’ is a 2017 documentary with a macro and micro perspective about the current global refugee crisis. It takes us upon an epic journey to over 20 countries to document the impact of forced human migration on individual lives and communities. Using drones that sweep across the flow of migrants to intimate accounts shot with phone cameras, this film brings us face to face with stories that remain largely untold. The film is a plea for compassion and empathy towards fellow humans who have nothing to do with the geo-political upheavals they are helplessly caught in. Ai delves into the reasons behind mass migrations and seeks lasting solutions that will help future generations live without fear. Available on Amazon Prime Video.
First They Killed My Father: This cinematic adaption of activist Loung Ung’s autobiographical book by Oscar-winning actor, director, and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie makes us see the Cambodian genocide from the gaze of a young survivor. The film retells how the young girl and her family went through untold suffering under the regime of Pol Pot. It sensitively outlines the issues faced by Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who are dehumanized in their own countries. Loung Ung for instance was forced to be a child soldier at the age of 7 during the Communist Khmer Regime. Set in 1975, the film depicts how Loung trained as a child soldier while her siblings were sent to labor camps during the Khmer Rouge regime. It also reveals the grit no human being should have to summon to just survive. Available on Netflix.
For Sama: ‘For Sama,’ a 2019, BAFTA-winning documentary directed by Waad Al-Kateab, and Edward Watts has been hailed as a rare account of war from a female perspective. The film, with startling intimacy, focuses on Waad Al-Kateab’s journey as a mother, wife, journalist, and rebel during the Syrian uprising in Aleppo. Married to Hamza Al-Kateab, one of the few doctors left in Aleppo, she discovers she is pregnant. She delivers her baby as the war begins to intensify. The film premiered at the South by Southwest festival on March 11, 2019, and won the Documentary Feature Competition’s Grand Jury and Audience Awards. It was nominated in four categories in the BAFTA awards, and also for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards. Available on Netflix.