To Run Away From the Nazis and From the Islamic State is Almost the Same Thing

6. 3. 2016

Author: Filip Šebek

On April 28, 1945, a unique cinematic report about the arrival of the prisoners freed from the German concentration camps to the refugee camp in Malmö was shot. These emotionally strong pieces of archive footage caught the eye of the experienced Swedish filmmaker Magnus Gertten to such an extent that he decided to use them in two of his films already. In the documentary Every Face Has a Name (2015), which was supported by the Institute of Documentary Film and which can be seen within this year's One World IHRDFF programme, the director decided to add names and individual stories to the faces from the archive footage. The film has collected awards from Thessaloniki and Hamburg among others and was screened at several other international film festivals with a success. 

Your film is based on the archive footage, which has already been used in your documentary Harbour of Hope. Why have you decided to use it again in another documentary? 
I never had the intention of using the same footage in two different films. But the screenings of Harbour of Hope (2011) led me to the survivors identifying themselves in the 70 year old archive footage from Malmö, Sweden, that I used in the first documentary. That was the reason for taking on the almost impossible mission: to put names to as many faces as possible in the footage shot April 28, 1945, on their day of liberation. We filmmakers get inspiration from crazy challenges like this.

Your main motivation was to find out, how many of the anonymous faces it might be possible to identify 70 years later. So, how many faces have you identified?
We had been working on identifying people in the archive footage for many years. The first came already in 2008. Luckily we had lists of names of the people who arrived to Malmö on that specific day. When we published them on Facebook the ball really started to roll. By now we’ve identified around 70 survivors. We’re publishing the identifications on our website www.everyfacehasaname.com

Have you stumbled upon somebody who refused to be in your film,  for example because of the painful memories?
The protagonists of Every Face Has a Name all have different strategies concerning dealing with their tough war and camp experience. Some people didn’t want to talk about the life in the camps, but were happy to talk about the liberation day. Which actually was the theme of my film. I’ve met around 12 survivors from the footage. They were luckily all happy to meet me. You have to remember that I had a gift with me when I met them: I had a film reel from the most important day in their life. They were curious, of course.

Your characters have the most incredible stories, fI was personally most struck by one of them recalling living in a hiding for six years as a ssmall boy dressed as a girl. Which story was the most fascinating for you?
It’s hard for me to choose. My protagonists are like children to me. You can’t choose anyone before the other. But Bernard Kempler’s story is definitely very fascinating. Hiding dressed as a girl is something I didn’t hear before. He also has a way of explaining his feelings when he and his sister arrived to freedom in Sweden.

In your film there are many sensitive and emotionally strong interviews. Which one do you find to be the strongest? 
Many of them have affected me. The ’grumpy’ Phillip Jackson in Paris, the Norwegian Svenn Martinsen, who died just weeks after I’ve interviewed him and of course Elsie Ragusin in Florida who gives us the important love story. All docs needs a love story.

The resemblance and relevance of your archive footage to the present day immigrant crisis is very interesting. Was there a specicic reason for including the images of a boat full of refugees in the Sicilian harbour to your film? Was there a strong moment for you?
I didn’t only want to make a historic film. I needed to make some comments on the current situation. Refugees arriving to a harbour  which means freedom is something happening almost every day somewhere in the world. I was looking for a location that visually looked almost like Malmö in 1945. It was really tough filming in Sicily, especially when they found 45 dead refugees inside the little blue fishing boat. After I finished the film in January 2015 the refugee situation has exploded. My film become even more relevant than I was wishing for.

How do you feel about the current situation of imigrants in Sweden? What do you think the Swedish government and ordinary people should do to improve this situation?
Sweden is famous for its open immigration and refugee policy. I’m proud of that. Hopefully we can continue to set a good example for other countries in Europe. If other countries are doing the same thing as Sweden, the problem wouldn’t be as big. We need to share the responsibilities and help people. Right now the situation in Sweden is complicated. The anti -refugee moods are getting stronger. But the majority in Sweden still wants to reach out a helping hand. 

Do you think that we can learn something useful from the situation in 1945 in the context of the current refugee crisis? 
Hopefully. In 1945 everyone thought of the help as something natural. As a privileged country you have a responsibility to help refugees. In 1945 they were victims of the nazis. I don’t think it’s a big difference. Escaping ISIS is almost the same. 

You attended many festivals with your film - in Europe, in the USA, in Brasil or in Israel. Were the reactions from the audience different in different parts of the world?
There were some amazing reactions, but slightly different. The European audiences immediately understand the references to the refugees of today. In the US the viewers are lacking knowledge of both the situation in 1945 and the recent refugee crisis, so I think my film opened up some eyes there.

You have attended events organized by Institute of documentary film earlier, so can you tell what the benefit of our activities are? 
The Institute of Documentary Film is really great. Lovely people with passion for docs, spreading the word about our craft and inspiring new people to take on the challenges of filmmaking. 

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