Iva Radivojevic's Evaporating Borders is told throught a series of vignettes that explore the lives of asylum seekers and political refugees in Cyprus. The divided island nation in the eastern Mediterranean is one of the easiest points of entry into Europe. Radivojevic's documentary examines the situation in Cyprus and uses that to explore tolerance and immigration practices throughout the Western world where migration has resulted in human rights abuse. The film screens at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival Tuesday June 16 followed by a discussion with Radivojevic.
Iva Radivojevic, USA/Cyprus, 2014, 73m
Responses by Iva Radivojevic:
Immigration issues and migrants rights are themes that are important to me. I've been an immigrant since the age of 12, when Yugoslavia fell apart. At that time my mother, my sister, and I moved to Cyprus. Once I finished high school, I moved to New York to study and have been here ever since. Over the years I often visited the family in Cyprus. In the 2000s, wars had shifted from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Africa and the attitudes toward these new migrants shifted as well. The environment grew more intolerant each time I'd visit. The migrants from Middle East were particularly targeted and subjected to institutional racism, attacks and so on. Naturally, these issues needed to be exposed and talked about.
On adjusting her approach to the film:
The initial idea for the film was to approach it as more of an experiment, in the style of Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer. Here the migrants and the local community would be brought together in dialogue, filmed and then invited to view and reflect on the recordings, which would also be filmed. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to happen, as there was very little interest in communication and so I had to change the strategy and the entire direction of the film. The challenge then was to put aside the preconceived ideas about what I knew and opinions I held about the situation and approach the issues anew and be open to discoveries and alternate points of view.
On the power of the medium of film:
Film is a brilliant platform for discussion. I communicate through film because it allows me to express ideas, to invite people into a world and also to project some thoughts into the subconscious of the viewer. It’s a very direct relationship. The extent to which a film is an effective medium for activism depends on multiple factors—subject matter, style, in some cases available funding for outreach, and so on—however, one thing that’s indisputable is the power of film to move people. With that power also comes great responsibility and awareness on the part of the filmmaker.
The extent of this power became most obvious to my practice through the Occupy movement, when it began in New York in 2011. A friend and I went down to Wall Street to spend some time at the park and talk to people. We were interested in finding out what the movement was about and communicating our interpretation through film. It was the first few days of the movement and the atmosphere was very exciting and hopeful. The first film that we made on the topic was also projecting those sentiments, we called it Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution. It was also the first film that appeared online about what was happening down at Zuccotti, and it went viral. So viral that in the coming weeks we would meet people at the park who told us they came all the way from California because they saw the film and wanted to participate. People all over the world would send us their versions of the film, and their local Occupy movements. In this case the audience was pre-built and it was easy to mobilize them. Most importantly though, it demonstrated incredible resonance on the information and messages we put out there through film. It was incredibly powerful and scary at the same time.
For Evaporating Borders the process is different, the style of the film is different. It’s a reflective essay, it’s not an advocacy film in the literal sense. It’s more psychologically complex, it penetrates quietly. In terms of direct activism, this film will target schools, universities, and regional screenings.
On transforming the film's audience:
One thing that the film does is advocate for the process of self-reflection. We are all guilty of intolerance, prejudice, discrimination, and the film pushes the viewer to evaluate their own involvement. It asks: “How do I participate in this process? What’s my role and how can I create something different?“ If one person recognizes themselves in the film and has a transformative experience, that alone renders the film successful. From there we can create ripples.