Stranger in Paradise
A political essay on the absurd dilemmas presented by asylum policies. In a classroom, migrants’ illusions are dashed against the rocks of European arrogance. (Available in Europe only)More info
Dutch director Guido Hendrikx's debut feature, which opens IDFA this year, is likely to stoke debate at the festival for its unorthodox treatment of the European migrant crisis.
The hybrid work features Belgian actor Valentijn Dhaenens in the guise of a European official at a migrant centre in the Sicilian town of Siculiana.
Over the course of three acts, he addresses a group of young migrants, newly arrived in Europe from across the Mediterranean with hopes of travelling northwards to countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
Firstly, his character sets forth an anti-immigration argument, essentially telling the participants they cost money, are not welcome and should head home. He then proclaims a pro-immigration view, suggesting a borderless world would be a far more prosperous one than that of today. The final act revolves around a simulation of the vetting process each migrant will have to go through when they make their application to remain.
It's a timely work, as the migrant debate continues to rage against the backdrop of Brexit and Donald Trump's election as US president on an anti-immigrant ticket.
The documentary was born out of a trip by the director in May 2013 to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which saw some 60,000 people land illegally on its shores that year and another 160,000 arrivals in 2014.
"I became intrigued with a few different mechanisms I experienced and noticed. The power relationship between Europeans and those from the other side of the sea; how the lucky ones dealt with the desire for luck of the other. And the stark contrast between optimistic dreams and an often harsh reality", he explains.
"My goal was to make these power relationships palpable by holding up a mirror to the audience, newly arrived migrants and myself as a filmmaker, in a closed, limited arena."
The dialogue was based on Hendrikx's observations during the trip, as well as news stories, off-the-record interviews with Dutch Immigration Service officers and an in-depth study of the protocols governing immigration in Europe. There will be viewers who will question the ethics of subjecting the participants to some of the arguments laid forth by Dhaenens's character, but Hendrikx says the people in the film were briefed on the fact it was a simulated situation.
"I emphasized that it was not real and that I wanted them to engage in the conversation if they didn't agree. They knew it was fake", says Hendrikx.
"Sometimes we did re-takes with the same class if there was not enough interaction in the first performance, or we weren't satisfied for one reason or the other. But some scenes were also one-takes", he adds.
As well as opening the festival, the film is also a contender in IDFA's First Appearance competition.