It is now three years since Basti and I set out to film “The March of Hope” in 2016. With today, June 20th being “World Refugee Day”, I just wanted to write a few short reflections. I have to run to work, so writing in bullet form!
1. On the power of Communality
Last night the film was screened in “Kommunale Gallerie Berlin” as part of the “Zweites Leben” project run by the extraordinary brilliant man Peter Fischer-Piel. Peter curated an exhibition which asked refugees to photograph aspects of their new environment, their second life, and to together exhibit the work. The photographs were so beautiful and covered all range of subject matter. What I found truly moving was the way the evening provoked conversation. In our digital world and with the ubiquity of social media, we sometimes forget that getting together and talking is one of the most powerful and healing things. And why I love Peter is that he (and his tremendous circle) recognise that “integration” is a two way street. It takes the love of locals as well as of those arriving. In a fracturing world, building community is never easy – I myself have struggled with Western isolation my whole life. Community takes work, it takes effort, it takes courage. We have to remember to simply keep reaching out in new ways – and overcoming our own short-comings and fears to do so.
2. On the Illusion of Failure and Confronting the Indifference of the World
The journey of making the film has been a long one. Every part of getting this labour of love out into the world has been an extraordinary challenge. Having filmed, and mainly finished the editing in 2016 – the following year was incredibly difficult. Simply put, I could not get anyone to watch it. It is a challenge every first filmmaker knows. I couldn’t even get people I know who are in the film industry to watch it. It was then that I settled into the long term, and in particular found strength and support from the wonderful man Tim Joppien.
We were also lucky enough to be joined by 2 interns, Serena and Amanda – who gave extraordinary love and energy. Having been in the arts for many years, I know that a huge part of getting anything out is about waging a war of attrition. Simply put – do you believe in what you are doing enough to out gun the indifference of life? Don’t expect life to make it easy. It never ever will. We met every week, and the 4 of us decided to take on the indifference of the film industry. The first 19 festivals rejected the film. Then the 20th accepted us. I went to the pub, on my own, drank a bunch of beers, came home and applied to 20 more. And got accepted into half of them. After that I wrote to 1000 film festival programmers, explaining the project, its human rights subject, its social dimension. 100 replied, 50 offered full waivers, and we got into another 30 festivals all around the world. You just have to keep on going. And try to bring your best self in the small moments – over and over and over.
3. On the Power of Angels…our Ambassadors
We have had no support from the established film community. There has not been a single euro spent on marketing. The film has however been blessed with an alternate input. Simply put, enter the angels. What has made the film go forward has been chance meetings, the entrance of a guide, a shadowy figure out of the blue, who has come to provide an alchemic transformation through an introduction or a suggestion, or an encouragement at a key time. One example is my friend Sophia from Belgrade, who Basti and I met while travelling through the Balkans.
At the end of 2017, knowing that we were stuck, Sophia booked the first screening of The March of Hope in Belgrade. It was an extraordinary viewing, at an incredible out door cinema with over 100 people. Two of those people – Bruno and Emily – had worked in the Human Rights area for their whole lives. Bruno said something so important to me. “Jim you are bringing a fresh perspective to the subject, which is so important and revitalising for us who have been working our whole lives in it, and sometimes get burnt out and weary”. Bruno, who is one of the leaders ECHO at the United Nations, then became an ambassador for the film, and has been unending in his encouragement, introductions and support. The lesson for me is that if one keeps one’s heart open to life, keeps believing, keeps getting lead by your values – you will find that at the last, something will emerge which will light and show the way. Thank you to all our ambassadors
4. What Human Rights Mean – the Need for Activism
The motivation for filming was to learn more about the terrible things going on on our shores. To try to see if it might be possible to lend a hand, or contribute in someway. God, don’t we all just feel blocked in our capacity to contribute sometimes? One of the tragedies for me is that I feel that there is so much untapped kindness in the world. We want to do our bit, but we often just don’t dam well know how to.
I think that the main thing I have learnt is that Human Rights takes a consistent dialogue with oneself. It is not just enough to know that we are kind in our hearts, or would like to do something, or to contribute in some way. To engage with Human Rights takes work. It takes us challenging ourselves. It takes us stepping out of our comfort zones. It takes us being willing to renew our own conversation with life.
It takes us overcoming the temporary and current limitations of who we are today. I feel more and more than values and intentions are not enough. A dialogue with Human Rights begins at the moment we activate. The problem many of us face is that because we don’t do a lot, we often end up doing nothing. What has so moved me with the film, is that people have been able to – and been willing to – use the film as an extension of their own activism, their own capacity to contribute. Likewise, I now look at myself, and I want to challenge my own capacity for passivity. How can I step up from this moment where I have arrived? What is the purpose of my life? Of my values? Of who I am? What dam use can these hands be? Every action begins with a question. But there is no answer until we motivate ourselves to actually seek an answer.
5. On Lessons Learnt from Suffering
I find that I continue to learn from the experience of working, living, talking and becoming friends with the refugees I met while shooting The March of Hope. I am still dumbfounded at how so many of these people, enduring terrible suffering, managed to convey & embody so much courage, defiance, humour & love – despite everything they were going through. I continue to learn from everything i witnessed, everyone i met today.
Each of us endures a different type of suffering through our lives. The refugees taught me the lesson of trying to aspire to your best self, even in your hardest moments. Its so hard to do, and so many of us fall short, even ourselves sometimes giving in to anger & hate. But i will always return to the lessons of these people. And always when i do, i promise to renew my own contract with life; and try to live with something of the dignity & courage they consistently showed.