Reviews

'#MyEscape' Employs Innovative Filmmaking Techniques to Cover the Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis

Director Elke Sasse doesn't need to embellish the refugees’ stories; their own cell phone filmmaking and interviews provide plenty of narrative depth.


#MyEscape

Director: Elke Sasse
Studio: Berlin Producers
Release date: 2016-02-10

#MyEscape, screened at the New York City Independent Film Festival, is a unique documentary in which refugees trafficked from Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan control the vast majority of the filmmaking. The film’s footage constitutes largely of refugees’ hidden cell phone video recordings which depict portions of their several thousand mile journey over harrowing, stomach-turning conditions. The refugees provide voice over narration of their journeys, as well as uninterrupted, candid interview segments in which they reflect on the violent conditions which drove them from their homeland, and the victimization they suffered while being trafficked to Germany. Accordingly, the cumulative result of #MyEscape is a somewhat one-sided, but ultimately humanizing voice for refugees; one which serves as a compelling emotional response to nationalist propaganda that refugees are minatory threats.

Director Elke Sasse doesn't embellish the refugees’ accounts with sweeping wide shots or punctuated orchestral notes to influence the audience into feeling heightened emotions. Nor does she need to -- the refugees’ plaintive, if not at times poetic accounts of their journey fill the film with plenty of narrative depth.

The interview coverage at times reaches novelistic heights. A 15-year-old refugee from Afghanistan observes, “Only god knows how many people died in these waters.” Considering that over 7,000 refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean sea between 2015 and 2016, her statement is even more haunting. Another mid-20s Syrian student, whose face brims with gentility and intelligence, recounts that when he was stuffed with more than a hundred refugees in an inflatable life raft, “I thought about how my mom will see my dead body on the beach.”

The cell phone footage is low resolution, shaky, and at times scattered; audiences will experience sensory frustration along the way. And yet, #MyEscape’s use of cell phones has several counter-intuitive advantages.

Night shots are grainy and claustrophobic, which highlight the suffocating circumstances refugees had to endure during their journey. Likewise, a small frame of an isolated sand dune in the Sahara Desert where refugee children are at play, or the edge of a soaked life raft bobbing on violent seas, creates a sense of disorientating isolation and uncertainty. There's no sense of what's to come even ten feet ahead, or just how many miles are left before the next rest point.

Wobbly tracking footage absent any cinematographic luster presents refugee migration as an indiscriminate series of grueling events. When refugees finally arrive in Greece by sea, there's no triumphant moment; just a small frame shot of the back of people’s heads spilling out of a cramped dinghy. Some exhaustedly express relief. Others point their phones to the ground, where tents made of bed sheets await. An unconscious woman swallowed too much sea water is finally being tended to; the task would be impossible in an over-populated life raft.

Through its visuals alone, #MyEscape builds immense emotional frustration at a global community which has increasingly refused to facilitate refugee travel and access to asylums, thereby permitting human traffickers to run rampant. Hidden cell phone videos peak at traffickers with machine guns, which serve as evidence that refugees were not free to turn back once they began their expensive and arduous journey. A boy films his ride in the empty gas tank of a truck. As either a seasoned filmmaker would (or perhaps just a human being experiencing hellacious living conditions with a device to record them on), the boy continually returns his camera to an open fuel receptor which doubles as an air shaft.

#MyEscape will undoubtedly be criticized for taking a one-sided approach to the refugee crisis. The interview subjects are almost all young, soft-spoken, reflective, and thoughtful.

They represent an attractive demographic of rock musicians, students, professionals, and activists. Moreover, the subjects’ arrival in Germany is treated as a relatively soft-landing; all seem well situated in their new homes. It's indeed difficult to fully accept that this small sample size is a complete picture of Middle Eastern refugee demographics or refugees’ current situation in Germany.

Nevertheless, #MyEscape’s efforts to disabuse false notions about Middle Eastern refugees render it a successful documentary. Sasse effectively argues that refugees have the potential to be prized additions to any country, and should not be treated as “other”. Statistically, it has been proven that many refugees are young men and women who want the same things people in other peaceful countries are entitled to earn.

Notably, the film’s informational screen text employs nondescript Twitter hashtags, such as “#Germany” or “#Sahara”. This is an interesting touch, and not only for its obvious implication that the film was shot using cell phones.

We live in an age when hashtags are routinely used to chart hot trends, be it of celebrity status or President Donald Trump’s next sound bite. But the most important trends remain the timeless ones; the circumstances human beings have to endure to survive and have a chance to raise their families. #MyEscape uses cellphones to capture this reality, and in so doing argues for the use of new, hyper-fast portable technology to illuminate our world’s severe issues, rather than obsess over a buzzing fragment of political pop culture. Indeed, #Lampedusa deserves greater attention than, say, #SmallHands.

This is an important argument to advance, as the survival of millions of people -- and our planet -- relies on it.

7
Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.