‘Nobody wants to leave their country and risk dying in the sea. But when it becomes impossible to live in your own country, people will do desperate things.’ This powerful opening from BBC2’s Exodus: Our Journey to Europe captures the harrowing, often brutal, nature of the series, which takes an innovative approach to documenting the migrant crisis. With the current political landscape in the UK and attitudes towards immigration becoming increasingly feverish, it could not have come at a better time.
The three-part series was stripped over three consecutive evenings on BBC2. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone watching episode one and failing to be drawn into the next two. Production company KEO Films supplied migrants with camera phones, allowing people fleeing war, persecution and poverty to film their journeys; departing their home countries and attempting to reach Europe by any means necessary.
Allowing people to film their own journeys offers the authenticity that viewers crave.
Footage that camera crews would never have access to was captured as a result of this filming method. Viewers watch as migrants attempt to escape a dingy that is rapidly filling with water. In another episode we follow one man’s desperate search to find a smuggler who charges extortionate prices. The often shaky, sometimes black and white footage offered an intimate view of their experiences. Whilst the quality of the images may not have been exceptional, the story they portrayed was. Those featured provide a direct contrast to the stereotypes often portrayed by the media. Many migrants came from respected professions, with some having sold their homes to secure what they believe to be safe passage to Europe. Allowing them to film their own journeys offers the authenticity that viewers crave; infusing a tangible danger that would not seem out of place in a drama.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron famously referred to refugees as a ‘swarm,’ whilst other headlines have screamed ‘Italian idyll is awash with migrants’ and ‘Turkey only sending sick and ill-educated Syrians to Europe.’ Embarking on journeys alongside refugees allows viewers to see the people behind the stories whilst simultaneously debunking the aggressive anti-migrant feeling expressed by the newspapers in the UK.
BBC Media Action is further exploring the topic of immigration this week. The BBC’s international development charity is backed by donors and aims to ‘inform, connect and empower people around the world.’ A short film has been released that aims to make humanitarian agencies aware of the communication problems refugees encounter and offers viewers a glimpse into what it is like to flee your country by boat.
Providing migrants with the means to film their journeys allows a simple filming method to bring clarity to an incredibly complicated topic.
Viewers watch using their phone, which is taken over and simulates the experiences of a refugee. Text messages from family members arrive and a map of the proposed journey is shown. The seemingly distant threat of warfare and persecution is brought not only into viewers’ homes, but into their hands. As an audience we are becoming increasingly exposed to the experiences of refugees, but will it be enough for us to sit up and listen?
Exodus: Our Journey to Europe is essential viewing for anyone in these unsettling times, as a stark reminder of the harsh reality many migrants are living. It makes the case for a new style of documentary-making perfectly; viewers no longer want to see an experience as an outsider, but to experience it themselves. Providing migrants with the means to film their journeys – demonstrating an autonomy that many have been stripped of in their native countries – allows a simple filming method to bring clarity to an incredibly complicated topic.