The Island of All Together
Every summer many European tourists travel to the Greek island Lesvos for a sunny holiday. This year thousands of refugees crossed the sea from Turkey and arrived on the island as well, looking for a safe haven in Europe. Filmmakers Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden invited European tourists and Syrian refugees to talk to one another about life while sitting on a little bench overlooking the sea.
The result is a short documentary in which the viewer wanders over the island and is made witness of conversations about war, fleeing, home, work, cars and pets. The Island of all Together is an ode to humanism and shows in a moving way what happens when we take the time to sit down and talk with each other instead of about each other. This project has been translated into German, Dutch, Arabic and Greek.
More information about the project: theislandofalltogether.com
When European Tourists and Syrian Refugees Meet
These days, Lesbos is a tale of two islands. For European tourists, the Greek outpost in the Aegean Sea is a summertime escape, a place for leisure and relaxation. For the Syrian refugees who make it there alive, after a treacherous voyage by boat from Turkey, it’s a safe haven and a portal to a new life in the European Union. Mostly, the two groups keep to themselves.
But in Marieke van der Velden and Philip Brink’s short documentary, The Island of All Together, for a brief moment, they cross paths. This August, the Amsterdam-based couple spent 10 days on the island and filmed 12 one-on-one conversations they arranged between recently arrived refugees and vacationing Europeans. Afterward, van der Velden photographed the pairs. The goal, she said, was to inspire a greater sense of empathy in participants and viewers alike.
“In the Netherlands (and in Europe) there are huge discussions going on, and sometimes people become very severe. Like, ‘Sad for them, but it is not my problem, so they have to stay in Turkey or wherever,’ ” van der Velden said via email. “When people start talking with each other, face to face, they start to feel a bit what it really means for a person when his or her country is in a war, when your house is demolished, the economy and your work stops, and your children can’t go to school for years. We see that it made them softer. The war gets a face, a person with a name and family and a future.”
The idea for the project came this past March. Van der Velden and Brink were making a documentary at refugee camps in Lebanon and realized that many of the people they met would likely try to flee the poor conditions there by boat. Lesbos, they knew, was one of the closest places in Europe to the region. Pressed for time, the couple cast the first people they managed to recruit for the project. They enlisted fellow Europeans at their hotel and asked Syrians waiting for a bus at a parking lot in the village of Molyvos. The pairs spoke, flanked by three cameras, for approximately 30 minutes each. With the help of an instantaneous translator broadcast in earpieces provided to them, the conversations, which covered politics and lighter topics like soccer and music, unfolded relatively smoothly. Each meeting ended with the participants taking a selfie together.
“While we sat quietly behind the camera we let every conversation take its own course. Sometimes the conversations started somewhat awkwardly, but during the course of the it became easier. And if they were unable to think of something to say they could take one of the question cards, which were located in between them,” the pair wrote on the project’s website. All of the Syrians featured in the project, van der Velden said, have reached either Germany or Austria. For some of the pairs in The Island of All Together, including Selma, from Hannover, Germany, and Husam, a Syrian now living in Berlin, that means they’re not just acquaintances but, in fact, countrymen. “We have a great deal of contact, and I sometimes help him with the translation of the documents and with learning the German language. He is also coming soon to visit me in Hannover,” Selma wrote in an email to the filmmakers. “I can say that I have a good friend in him.”
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HOW ARE THINGS NOW?
After a long journey through Europe, all of the people in this documentary have safely reached Germany or Austria. Here they wait in refugee centres for the necessary residency documents. It is unclear when their procedures will be completed and what the outcome will be. Because for every child under the age of 18 within the EU education is manditory; the children are now going to school.
Only by way of the Greek islands alone there have been around 851.000 people arriving in the European Union by rubber boats. How is it possible that such a great stream of refugees got started? Here you can read more about the background of this exodus. Did everyone want to participate? And were the people casted for the film? Click here if you would like to learn more about how this film was made.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
We hope that the film will motivate people to talk with one another instead of about one another. The benches in the park or by the sea are quietly waiting for our conversations. You can help us by sharing this message as much as possible:Share the film or trailer on social media, or with the students in your classrooms. Use it as a guideline for a debate about refugees with your city council or show it to your grandmother during the family dinner. If you download the question cards that we used in the documentary, you can even organize your own ‘bench afternoon’ in a local refugee center. There are also questions for children.
Thank you for downloading the question cards. We would like to share some of our experiences with you.
- We first let people talk for about ten minutes without question cards. This allowed some space to get to know one another: What is your name? How old are you? Are you married? Where do you come from? What is your profession? Do you have children? And so on.
- We used approximately 3 to 6 question cards per discussion. Sometimes a long discussion would arise from one question, but there were also moments when questions were answered with short answers. It there were moments of silence that was not a problem.
- Most of the conversations lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.
- We wish you much luck in your conversation! And if you should have photos of your activity, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org We will proudly post these photos on our Facebook page.
— The Lovely Plains (@DaRiverZkind) March 27, 2016