INTERVIEW: Director Mortiz Siebart on film Those Who Jump, African migrants, European fences

Hatem El Salem, Sunday 13 Nov 2016

Ahram Online talks to one of three directors of the documentary Those Who Jump (Les Sauteurs), a film that screened within the 9th Panorama of the European Film Festival, 2-13 November

Moritz Siebart
Director Moritz Siebart during the discussion with the audience, following the screening of Those Who Jump in Cairo (Photo: Panorama of the European Film)

Directed by Moritz Siebart, Estephan Wagner and Abou Bakar Sidibé, with the latter being also the protagonist of the story and one who filmed it, Those Who Jump has won eight awards and has been screened at 40 different film festivals around the world.

Its screening at the Panorama was accompanied by director Moritz Siebart, who attended one of the film’s two screenings and led a discussion after.

Those Who Jump tells the story of Abou Bakar Sidibé, an African migrant who lives on a hilltop overlooking the Spanish city of Melilla, and the journey he and hundreds of other African migrants took to literally jump over a fence into Europe. As such, Those Who Jump becomes a testimony to the stories of refugees and migrants and the current influx into Europe.

Moritz Siebart talked to Ahram Online about the story behind the film and the filming process.

Ahram Online (AO): What are your reasons for choosing to make a documentary on migration?

Moritz Sibart (MS): It is a topic I have been working with for the past 15 years. All of my films but two have been on migration. I was an activist, which was partially the reason I came to filmmaking, and in the early 1990s I worked a lot with refugee organisations. This is why the first film I made together with a friend, which was quite successful, was about refugees. Afterwards, I left the refugee issue and looked at different kinds of migrations, a frontier I returned to a while ago.

AO: How do you see Those Who Jump in the wider context on refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers?

MS: For me, the question of migration is not just about refugees; it’s about migration in general. I don’t make these films only because I’m interested in migrants, but also to observe how my society interacts with the question of migrants. I think you can see a lot about a society and its values through these interactions. You can see images of us, of Europe. These images do not tell you about the future but about how we see the subject today. We see it (migrants) as a problem.

AO: In Those Who Jump, Abou Bakar Sidibé films every scene in the film, sometimes passing the cameras to others to film himself as well. How did you meet Abou and how did he become a part of the filming process?

MS: Estephan Wagner and I, whom I met in film school, shared admiration of the strength and resilience of the people on top of Mount Gurugu in Morocco who were trying to make it to Europe and we wanted to make a collaborative film on the issue. We were referred to Abou by a journalist who lives in Melilla and has been working with migrants jumping the fence between the Spanish city and the Moroccan hilltop for 10 years. We gave Abou and another migrant a camera, some money, and instructions to film their daily lives.

However, upon watching the footage we got from Abou, we saw that he had disregarded our instructions and had instead used his own creativity to film scenes his own way. It was during the editing process of Abou’s footage when we realised this creativity and that perhaps he should be a director of the film alongside Wagner and I.

AO: Many filmmakers who have made films on migrants or asylum seekers gear their films towards critiquing the system of migrant resettlement and how international institutions deal with migration. What kind of addition to the conversation on migration do you think the film presents?

MS: We were aware of how many films were made on migration, but what we thought was missing was the perspective of the migrants themselves.

We didn’t want to take away from the strength and perseverance that inspired us to make the film by filming the documentary ourselves. The power in filmmaking is on the side of the camera, which would have been in my hand.

We know that we had power in the editing process, but the power in the filming process was in Abou’s hands because he filmed all of the scenes.

Although some of our scene ideas are in that film, the gold for me was his imagination in filming the documentary, something I could have never imagined on my own, which was the whole point of the process.

AO: What kind of message did you intend for this film to send to audiences?

MS: The film speaks to us that this man, Abou from Africa, is not an animal. He is a man, like us. There is nothing that divides us except for borders and lines [on a map], which are all political. By chance, I was born on this side of the line, whereas Abou was born on the other side.

When Abou talks about Europe invading Africa in the past but preventing Africa’s migrants from coming to Europe today, he says, “This is not possible.” We [Europeans] like to think of refugees from civil war as good and migrants, who are from Sub-Saharan Africa, as bad. We always consider them as economic migrants, although a lot of them are war-refugees. For us [Europeans], it is politically challenging because Abou does not want to enter Europe for its luxuries, yet we consider that he does anyway.

AO: Do you see this film as inviting the international community to revisit the African migrant situation as an important issue of our time?

I’d say I’m not so naïve to think that a single film will change how all of Europe sees its policies on migration. The film wants to show audiences that the migrants don’t care how Europe sees them. Migration from Africa is a reality, regardless of what leaders from Europe say.

For 20 years, the European Union has been building more obstacles to stop migrants, but they continue take their right to live in Europe and find a way to jump or cross over.

However, the harder we make it for them, the more they die. And this is a question to my society that I pose.

We like to talk about the European community as a community of values, but for whom? Only for us who are lucky to live inside the fortress? Europeans built these obstacles, so the responsibility is on us.

We (the directors) want to participate in the conversation in Europe on migrants. Often you are sitting there and you’re thinking to yourself that you disagree with what is going on, but you don’t know what to do. And like I said, although we know a single film will not change how Europe sees migration, at least we made our point.

Check here the complete programme of Panorama for Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Port Said

Ahram Online is the media sponsor of the Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya

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