Styx and Eldorado, new films on refugees

This video says about itself:

STYX – Wolfgang Fischer Film Clip (Berlinale 2018)

8 February 2018

Styx” depicts the transformation of a strong woman torn from her contented world during a sailing trip. When she becomes the only person to come to the aid of a group of refugees shipwrecked on the high seas, she is shown the limits of her importance and of the empathy of her cultural milieu. She is left slipping impotently from one nightmare to the next, and by the end she is forced to recognize that there is no way to counter the cruelties of real life. Only chance can save her.

By Stefan Steinberg in Berlin, Germany:

68th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 4

Styx and Eldorado: Once again on the plight of refugees

22 March 2018

Two years ago, the European refugee crisis played a central role at the Berlin film festival with the documentary Fire At Sea (Fuocoammare) by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi taking the festival’s main prize. Fire at Sea graphically portrayed the plight of refugees attempting to enter Europe, although it essentially concluded with an appeal to the European Union (EU) to rethink its policies.

Following a dearth of films dealing with the theme at the 2017 Berlinale, it was significant that a handful of movies this year dealt powerfully and insightfully dealt with the EU’s criminal abuse of refugees.

Styx by the Austrian director Wolfgang Fischer grabs our attention from the start with a dramatic road accident. The accident provides the backdrop for introducing the main character in the film, the paramedic Rieke (Susanne Wolff). In her 40s, Rieke is self-assured, proficient and ready for the holiday of a lifetime. She plans to sail a 12-metre yacht singlehandedly from Gibraltar to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, some halfway between Africa and South America.

For long stretches, Styx has little dialogue. Instead, we are introduced to the complex mechanics of sailing a small boat in the middle of the ocean, including navigating a fierce nighttime storm. Most of the filming took place on the high seas and the cinematography vividly depicts the enormous challenges involved in combatting the elements alone.

The film switches gear dramatically when, having survived the storm, Rieke spots a leaky trawler overflowing with African refugees. Highly alarmed, she does her duty according to maritime law. She immediately issues a Mayday call and informs the coast guard. In response the coast guard notes her call and strongly warns her against intervening personally.

Witnessing the dilemma of the refugees first-hand as their ship begins to sink, Rieke refuses to leave the scene and repeatedly requests assistance. Every time she is instructed to leave the area and not to intervene. Frustrated with the negligence of the coast guard, she contacts another ship in the area, a tanker. The message from the tanker is that they have strict instructions from the company not to intervene in such a situation—at the risk of losing their jobs.

Determined to leave the sinking ship, a handful of refugees jump overboard, and one of them, an African boy, manages to swim to Rieke’s yacht. She hauls him aboard and uses her paramedic skills to assist the exhausted, unconscious boy. On board her small craft, Rieke has everything—food, water, medicine, the most advanced navigational equipment. A few hundred metres away, a vessel is sinking with a hundred refugees on board who have nothing.

When the coast guard finally does arrive, its first priority is to arrest Rieke. Her boat is confiscated, and a shocked and fatigued Rieke is informed she faces serious criminal charges for providing assistance to drowning people.

In fact, Fischer’s film makes clear that the real criminals are the politicians who have callously sanctioned a policy that has allowed tens of thousands of helpless men, women and children to die at sea. In the making of Styx, the director worked closely with voluntary organisations that assist refugees in distress at sea and the film is based on genuine encounters.


The river Styx is the mythological river lying between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. In the real world perhaps the closest parallel is the transit camp, the no-mans land where refugees are rendered stateless and invisible to the rest of society. Other films at the festival sought to give a face to the tens of thousands stuck in transit on Europe’s borders and at the mercy of the European Union vicious bureaucracy and police.

This video says about itself:

Eldorado – Markus Imhoof Documentary Trailer (Berlinale 2018)

Drawing inspiration from his personal encounter with the Italian refugee child Giovanna during World War II, Markus Imhoof tells how refugees and migrants are treated today: on the Mediterranean Sea, in Lebanon, in Italy, in Germany and in Switzerland.

The Stefan Steinberg article continues:

Markus Imhoof’s documentary Eldorado begins with the director’s own wartime recollections in Switzerland. During World War II, neutral Switzerland was a “transit” land for Jewish refugees, The fascist powers allowed some Jews to cross the country and depart for other countries if, in return, Switzerland agreed to take in a certain number of war refugees. Imhoof relates how, as a young boy, he went down to his local railway station with his mother to pick out a refugee to take home—Giovanna, a young, sickly Italian girl who the boy later learnt to love.

After the war, refugees like Giovanna were forced to leave Switzerland. She died later in Milan, malnourished, at the age of 14. In the course of his film, the director, now 76, conducts a dialogue with his long lost childhood friend. This dialogue is interspersed with current footage of the dreadful plight of refugees, mainly from Africa, seeking to reach the European Union—a false El Dorado, which treats them with contempt and hostility should they manage to survive the perilous passage across the Mediterranean.

At the Berlin festival, Imhoof explained he had to wait months to obtain permission to film on official EU vessels, on the open sea and in the primitive transit camps established on Europe’s borders. Europe wants to wash its hands of the refugees, they are to remain unseen.

Eldorado also deals with the economics of modern human trafficking. He notes how he paid 36.50 euros [$US 44.75] for a ship’s passage from Africa to Europe, including a reserved seat. A refugee fleeing war and poverty often pays $1,500 for the same trip in a leaky dinghy without a lifejacket.

Those who do make it to Italian shores are often incarcerated in camps run by the Mafia, where they are employed as virtual slave labour. They work 10 hour days on tomato plantations for 30 euros a day, half of which they have to give to their gangster employers. It is reckoned that there are about 30,000 such illegal workers in Italian agriculture. Lacking any legal status they have no legal rights. Often they are not paid at all.

Imhoof notes that tomatoes are an ideal crop to grow in Africa and could significantly boost the economies of African countries. Instead African migrants working for poverty wages guarantee cheap priced tomatoes in Italy for the European market, a process Imhoof calls “economic colonisation.”

Together with his references to his own boyhood experiences in the war, Imhoof’s film implies that the treatment of refugees today is no better than it was three-quarters of a century ago during the war.

Styx and Eldorado deserve a wide audience.

Prominent German filmmaker Christian Petzold’s new work, Transit, based on a novel by the left-wing writer Anna Seghers (1900-1983), which also treats the “refugee problem”, will be discussed at a later date.

3 thoughts on “Styx and Eldorado, new films on refugees

  1. Pingback: New German film Transit on refugees | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: ‘Stop killing refugees’, demonstrators say | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Israel’s Netanyahu attacks Jewish Museum Berlin | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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