I’ve watched so many films about immigrants where the subject is always the poor to help. Here it’s not the same. They take some risks with us, they don’t just ask the right to move across Europe. For the first time, all of this can be seen in a movie. For the first time, immigrants make an action, feel emotions, perform actions. Even if they are illegal, their dreams are legal – Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry
The great news is that the crowdfunding campaign has reached its goal (more than 98.000 Euro funded) and the movie was selected at the next 71st Venice Film Festival
The entrance of the co-working space above Frida is along the right wall, beyond the gate on the road, before entering the bar. We are in Milan, Isola district. It’s half past six of Monday, 2nd June. It’s hot, summer has come. Last day of an endless long-weekend spent in town. Very lazy, among a thousand thoughts and only one certainty: I must study, gather information for the interview with the main characters of the On the Bride’s side project (http://www.iostoconlasposa.com/#home). Adventure, political action, self-produced documentary. What can I say that has not already been said about this project? What can I ask to bring out aspects, details, meanings not yet emerged?
The appointment has already been shifted in time and venue. Gabriele del Grande of Fortress Europe says me by phone that it’s because of a sudden meeting about the project. I think, inside me, it’s beautiful believing in an idea so much to spend a holiday working on it. And it should be nice to share it with others. And so many others.
The net has been mobilized in bulk around the bride. The crowdfunding (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/io-sto-con-la-sposa-on-the-bride-s-side–2) has the ambitious goal to reach 75.000 Euros for the film production and then to show it at the next Venice Biennale. And just today has come halfway there. Amazing, I think. As these dynamics are studied at a table, how many words are wasted and how much smoke is laying around.
Then three guys arrive without thinking so much, just collecting their store of experience, activating their networks and making the act of civil disobedience among the most amazing I’ve ever heard. They took care of five illegal Palestinian and Syrian immigrants, just landed in Lampedusa, across the European borders, from Milan to Stockholm for four days by car and by train, confusing them amongst a transnational group of guests to a fake marriage. They called a bride, their friend, very beautiful like all the brides. They managed things by improvisation, they traveled taking risks, they told the story making a film. They wanted to tell us stories, hopes, ambitions of a group of people just like us, ma also really different from us for their experience, rights and freedom. And now they have media system beneath them, everyone wants them, everyone wants to hear the story of the “bride”.
They blindly believed in their idea, far as to risking at every border crossing, up to fifteen years in jail each one for aiding illegal immigration, according to the European Union immigration law (l 286/98, art.12 comma 1 e 3). Actually they are still risking, because they haven’t stopped. They want to produce a film, as said. A documentary, And to make it they have activated the biggest operation of funding from the bottom in the whole history of the Italian self-produced cinema.
They don’t want that the story of this journey is isolated in an alcove of insiders or lovers of art films. They want that people know, through their expressive and fictional language talking about immigration in a less obvious and pietistic way. They want to reach everybody with a movie manifesto to identify with. Only in this way they can change the things, they’re telling me during the interview, and the web is their most effective weapon to do it.
Nowaday, the project has been hosted by many editorial online platforms and tv-radio italian and international broadcasts: Internazionale, Corriere della Sera, Republica, L’Avanti, El Pais, Huffinghton Post, Il Fatto Quotidiano, Borderline Europe, Core, L’Espresso, Redattore Sociale, Rai News 24, Radio 1 Baobab, Radio 2 Caterpillar, BBC Turchia, La Stampa, Arte, Al Arabi Al Jadid, Jugle World, Al-Monitor, Fahrenheit Radio 3 (http://goo.gl/hDqUjp).Without forgetting 10.000 like on Facebook fan page and more than 25.000 views of the trailer on You Tube.
Gabriele del Grande, journalist and blogger of Fortress Europe (http://fortresseurope.blogspot.it/), Antonio Augugliaro, independent director, Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, Syrian poet, and Valeria Verdolini, precarious researcher in Sociology of Law, arrive in front of me and at the first sight they are everything but heroes. They are not armed activists, they don’t make politics in strict sense. They don’t use weapons of violence nor of rhetoric. I’m being with them for the subsequent five hours and I’m learning to know them. At least somewhat. Simply they got themselves in the game and now they ask us to do the same…
Marco Mancuso: First of all, how are you? What are the feelings of this period, about the success and the feedback from the project “I’m with the Bride”?
Antonio Augugliaro: The feeling is positive, really beautiful. It started as a project with billions of doubts and worries, but now we understand that there is a whole community who thinks like us. We feel really satisfied by what we have done.
Gabriele Del Grande: In crazy projects like this one, you immediately ask yourself if you are alone or if there is anybody with you. The good performance of the crowdfunding campaign is surely a shot of confidence and encouragement from the people. There are also many things moving on, like the contacts, the awards, the invitations to festivals. Priceless things.
Marco Mancuso: Gabriele, how much has been important the network (and the authority) that you have built since few years by Fortress Europe for the success of the project? How did you meet?
Gabriele Del Grande: The importance of Fortress Europe is mainly linked to the network that is being built around the film, the resonance is especially Italian. Indeed, the resonance in the Arabic world has been activated primarily from Khaled’s networks and from his publishing house Noon. Talking about the project itself, we must always remember that it is a collective work of three authors with three different sensitivity. Everyone has brought something of his, not only me. We are three friends, even if Antonio and Khaled didn’t know each other before of the film.
For me, it’s true that the work I’ve always done on the border and that one about Syria in the last year have come to match in this project. I’ve put together the lines from two stories. The people who hosted us are from these networks created over the years: in Marseille and Bochum, where we were guests of some German militant friends who have joined some Syrian poets friends, in Germany since the war began, in Copenhagen where other friends of one of the guys who was with us on the road hosted and finally, in Stockholm, still guests of some Khaled’s Syrian friends. So various networks have been activated: transnational networks, children of a new and crossbred Europe sharing with us this vision of the world. And that opened its doors.
Valeria Verdolini: The foreword is that I did not know the guys before leaving. I met them just the Monday, three days before leaving. A dear friend, in common, wrote me with the proposal to leave for a mad journey. I arrived frightened, with the dual sensation of having to trust but also entrust, which are two really different actions. There was also a dual responsibility related to consequences of the journey: on the one side, our lives could change, in many and unpredictable ways, on the other side we had the responsibility of five people, of their lives. On a factual level, beyond the emotional level, there were human beings investing in change and trusting us blindly.
Marco Mancuso: The trip was planned in every single detail, like the borders to cross, the road to follow on the basis of the experiences collected from immigrants who you knew in the past. But how much were you scared before leaving? How much anxiety did you have? What is the rational and emotional discriminant, that leads a human being to risk so much for another human being with fewer rights and much more fragile?
Antonio Augugliaro: The morning of departure, after a night spent with my wife and my children, I looked at them thinking: “This could be the last time I see them”. My wife woke up, looking at me and saying: “Be quiet, this is the right thing to do in this moment, we are always with you whatever happens”. This has given me a strong tension, that’s clicked inside me few minutes before leaving. At the same time, you remind bad news about victims and people dying during the journey. Suddenly you decide that it’s enough and you must do something.
Gabriele Del Grande: For me it was a new thing. As a journalist, I usually tell the reality. I follow a story and I tell it. Indeed, here has been done something very different: we have written the story, we have changed the history. This is not journalism. We have created a new possible world, more funny and supportive, and we have made it real. For me, all this was new. Personally, the fact the five protagonists were Palestinian-Syrian has impressed me, because my Syrian experience changed me so much. Maybe I felt indebted to them. At one point, you choose a side…
Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry: If I didn’t come to Italy at the beginning of Syrian war, I don’t know where I am now. Maybe I would be died or in the free army. I had a direct responsibility to those people. They are people like us, all of us have a responsibility to them. Gabriele and then I had already made a number of illegal things: when we go to the station to catch illegal immigrants and bring them to our house, already at that time we perform an illegal act. They stay at our place more than three days and this is illegal. My choice has been: io can do anything for these people, I’m ready to do everything can help them. So I didn’t think a lot, I was very resolute.
Marco Mancuso: How has been for you working in team? How has been adapting your professional skills to other languages? For Gabriele, journalist, working really closed with cinema and art times and methods, for Antonio working on a documentary issue, for Khaled shaping his poetic vision to the film needs
Antonio Augugliaro: For me it hasn’t been easy. I usually work on something creative, on precise storyboards. Instead, finding me having to tell a story that not only doesn’t exist but that we were literally making this up, it hasn’t been easy. It has been hard comparing myself with Khaled, who has a more poetic and maybe conceptual vision of the piece of art, with Gabriele, who can work on facts. But all this has allowed me to open a new vision in my brain, in my heart. And I must say that I was really satisfied.
Gabriele Del Grande: In a certain sense we have been lucky, because we have a similar look on things. Personally, this course has enriched me so much. Without considering that the project, if you think about it, is more complicated because the authors are not only three of us, but there are many more people at work. We didn’t start from a situation with a great director, a great plot, great dialogues: basically, the whole group was good at keeping a climate to bring out that magic and that poetry among us, then passing from the film.
Marco Mancuso: How much material did you shoot and at what point is the crowdfunding campaign? I saw that at the time you were able to bear the costs, so the next step is reaching the production of the documentary? Or are you thinking about intermediate steps? I saw you have chosen the flexible funding, so if you don’t reach the goal you can receive the gained amount…
Gabriele Del Grande: First of all, we aim to take the whole amount. Until now, the first 24.000 euros paid the troupe, the six cameramen with us, the rent of the technical gear and the travel costs for everybody. The next budget items are editing, support editing, translations: we’ve come back with 100 hours of video, but all in Arabic. Then, there is the post-production, the soundtrack, the promotion. The 75.000 euros are the out paid expenses to finish the film. Until now we put all expenses from our pockets. The last 20th November, in an Autogrill, we tried to pay by ATM card and not even one worked. If we got up to this point it is also thanks to super professional people who wanted to participate without money in advance and without the security of a gain. But now these people have to be paid.
Marco Mancuso: Why did you decide to walk the way of the Net to pay the film? Why didn’t you pass through the searching of an executive producer?
Antonio Augugliaro: We wanted to bet that there was a community who thinks like us and who wants to contribute financially to such a project. Creating a community is very important: one thing is if we are alone thinking that these issues are important, another thing is creating a community of more than thousand people thinking like you.
Marco Mancuso: The idea of the involvement of people seems a suggestion from your side, almost an encouragement to a stronger acceptance of responsibility. It’s no longer enough experiencing a feeling of pity for the situation, having compassion, not just downloading the responsibility behind an emotional involvement – as suggested by Valeria on Doppiozero – but you have to get into the game. As you did, giving the example. Is it a possible interpretation?
Valeria Verdolini: My article on Doppiozero (http://www.doppiozero.com/autore/Valeria-Verdolini) is focused on the idea of compassion always coming with the work about migrants. We choose to leave this idea because it’s based on a rhetoric not achieving anything and it especially brings with itself the statement: “I give you something because I’m good”. “I’m with the bride” works in a different way: I participate to the project because I believe in it, not only feeling touched but also responsible of what happens. I smile with you but I want to keep smiling with you, along my life, at the same time shifting the debate in such a way that there is a political and European discussion about immigration policies and about the mobility of people within the Union territory.
Gabriele Del Grande: And I take risks with you, I’d like to add. We took risks and also people take risks with crowdfunding: yes, giving some money is not a risk from a technical point of view. But, at the same, there’s an assumption of responsibility when you decide to support a certain project. You say: “I’m with the bride”!
Antonio Augugliaro: In fact, it’s a step higher than the like on Facebook. Putting 10, 100 or even 1,000 Euros, it surely means you “are with the bride”. You don’t invest just five seconds of your time, but you financially support the project.
Marco Mancuso: Starting from the available material, the released clips, the trailer, it’s interesting to note your language: not pietistic, not superficial complaint, without any message of violence. Obviously it reflects the anxiety pervading the film, the emotions of fear, anger and sadness, but it’s interesting the contrast with feelings like the irony, the wedding celebration, the friendship. Is everything planned or is something belonging to you, after all?
Antonio Augugliaro: In this film there isn’t anything of planned. Everything is very spontaneous and emotional. We immediately like the idea. Suddenly, the plan of a transnational journey to help some illegal Syrian, organizing a fake wedding, made us fall in love with the project. It is as if we had already seen the film it all. We talk about other people not like a number, a distant entity; we talk about human beings through an universal language, which is from art and cinema. There are many sad moments, remembering both the tragedy of war and our personal problems, too. Everybody of us has pain, but also joy and boost towards the future.
Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry: I’ve watched many films about immigrants where the subject is always the poor to help. Here it’s not the same. They take some risks with us, they don’t just ask the right to move across Europe. For the first time, all of this can be seen in a movie. For the first time, immigrants make an action, feel emotions, perform actions. Even if they are illegal, their dreams are legal.
Gabriele Del Grande: The movie is a documentary, not a fiction. It has this language not because we spent months thinking about it, but because that group was just like it. A cohesive and transnational group. It is not like Italians helping losers Palestinians: the Italian guys with us were people with a long personal story of travels and a direct experience of those places. It isn’t just the element of risk that has united us, but also the sharing of a common knowledge, the fact that there was a group in which everyone put in his frailty, his baggage, able to look into your eyes without prejudices.
Marco Mancuso: How did you work on the script? Did you think perhaps to divide it into chapters according to the various stages of the journey? Have you ever been afraid to condition the success of the journey to the needs of the film?
Antonio Augugliaro: Like any documentary, a minimum of script was written. Otherwise we risked to take anything. We had some fixed points: the departure place, the arrival place, some intermediates towns (we weren’t sure about all). Only the day before we found out all the characters who have traveled with us. Our script is a way to organize the characters, to enhance them. It was not easy working without real subjects.
In the two long nights before departure, when we were to trace the script, one of the most difficult things it was to try enhancing the group as a group, telling every character coming and not only some of them. We thought to telling a character for each stage, even if this did not happen exactly as we had thought. This is the narrative thread pretty much: from the departure to the arrival the story of every character is told, moment by moment, during the journey. There are always a before and an after in their stories: during the travel from Milan to Stockholm they tell their past experiences, before the journey, from the coasts of Syria through Mediterranean Sea to Milan. But the interesting thing is that they don’t tell it through interviews, but talking with their travel companion.
Marco Mancuso: Did you thought that the single clips were functional to feed the crowdfunding over its period?
Gabriele Del Grande: No no, you are overestimating us. To make you understand from where it all: the project comes from a drunk, one night over a bottle of vodka. We started with the idea to make a film, but not with the idea of the crowdfunding campaign. It has come just four months ago. We thought that some producer, maybe, could be interested. Some foundation, some television, but soon they were all gone. Then, we had a good movie in our hands and we thought to ask people to helping us. When the film will be over, many people will think it again.
Antonio Augugliaro: On the way back, one of the cameraman took me aside, saying me: “Antonio, we made a mess, I don’t know how much material we have, I think it’s not enough to make a film”. Then we went to studio to watch the shot and we understood we had material enough to make the documentary. While we were shooting, we had no idea of what it would be over.
Valeria Verdolini: On one side, the time was important, because every single day risks increased. On the other side, there were human times: I’m going to change my life, I can’t wait that you film your scene. There was a time, in Copenhagen, where the human needs were very strong and in contrast to film needs. These two souls were very strong, with different needs, both of them noble.
Marco Mancuso: Fortress Europe is from 2006 a platform, an observatory monitoring what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea and the immigration flows across European borders. Gabriele, how do you see this problem from a political point of view in these years? Which answer is coming from the society, from politics, from media to “I’m with the bride” project?
Gabriele Del Grande: Compared to 2006, when I started, on the one hand nothing has changed, as people continue to die in the Mediterranean in the same way. Maybe the composition of flows has changed, because recently, with the crisis, there are people especially from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, instead in past we talked about people from Tunisia, Egypt and North Africa in general. On the other side, there has been this revolution that today allows the free circulation of people from Est Europe, from Poland, Hungary, from Balcans and Albania. The European Union is therefore increasingly fortified in the south, while to the east it’s experimenting more libertarian policies. Today, the main policy of the European Union to the East can be summed up thus: it is impossible to control the displacement of millions of people, so the solution is liberalization, ensuring that the labor market self-regulates people in and out.
Talking about the press coverage of our project, there is a certain interest, although I have the impression that it is in terms of communication and marketing. Any journalist takes us seriously. They think we are freaky people who made something attractive for the audience. “I’m with the bride” puts together images that are far from each other and can attract the media: there are the war and the bride, the kid rapper and the massacre of the Mediterranean. These are all things that they had never seen before. In marketing terms it works, for media too. In political terms, instead, no feedback. Zero. Strong participation, however, there has been from the civil society.
Valeria Verdolini: If we were to expect answers arising from questions and issues raised by the film, they should be first answers coming from European Union. Figuring a feeling that moves not only at the national level, it is the law that the project will shoot up. Because the issues challenged by the film are related to the Dublin II regulation, the free movement of people within the EC. There is not only the big issue of the entry or travel across the Mediterranean Sea; when somebody arrives in Lampedusa, how can he move inside the European territory?
Through the current laws, the European Union is assuming that these people are committed to a racket running these trips, to some people telling you that they’re driving you to Sweden even if it is not true, since any migrant knows exactly where Sweden is. This political issue is an uncomfortable question, not like the Mediterranean issue, which is in the sight of everybody. Why can I choose to live in Paris and you, illegal, are you forced to stay in Pozzallo camp?
Marco Mancuso: It seems to me that the very typical mechanism of media activism and guerilla marketing is working: to arouse the attention of mainstream media by a sensational operation. Can you perceive the personal criticism, that you probably move toward mainstream media, from the opportunity they represent for the success of the project? How are you living this duality?
Gabriele Del Grande: I live this process very peacefully. Before starting the crowdfunding campaign we went to Sicily, we hopped on a fisherman friend’s boat with the bride and with some Sicilian friends which looked rather Tunisian. We made a fake video with a girl dressed like a bride standing on the boat in the open sea. We send the video to Corriere TV, they published it and the video went immediately viral, taking tens of thousands views per day. All this just two days before starting the crowdfunding. We need media, we don’t want to stay inside an independent niche: this work has a meaning if it reaches a wide audience.
Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry: There is also a great value in the story itself. If there wasn’t a real value, the media don’t consider us and the system would not work. After all, we don’t have much need to play…
Antonio Augugliaro: You know, also “Papa Boys” wrote an article about us and it’s good. We don’t turn our nose at anything.
Marco Mancuso: In your opinion, how could the Net activate itself better? The communities, the platforms, the data journalism projects, the data visualization. How can the Net take further load of these and other social issues?
Antonio Augugliaro: The Net has a niche consumption, at least in Italy. It’s aware of such issues. What we would like to do it’s to reach who don’t attend the Net, so we would like to go to Venice or to television. Involving as many people as possible of what is our vision.
Gabriele Del Grande: For my job, I don’t believe in data journalism. It’s not that I don’t believe in the method, I don’t believe in data themselves. There are so many data on the web, so many news. But there aren’t stories. The value of “I’m with the bride” is giving a name to people, five people, not five thousand. Telling a story in which empathizing, that raises the regret in cannot join. Seeing the beauty of that humanity, reversing the appearance of the frontier. In our movie you don’t see a poor man, but a hero. Maybe a hero of the “Brancaleone Armada”, but able to make you want to be there with him. To be part of the story. For me, this works better than tons of data, number, information. Every tragedy has its numbers, but if you don’t tell a story, if you don’t make me close to a single person, then you don’t stir the consciences.
Marco Mancuso: To close, what is stronger? The emotion you felt in this experience or the satisfaction of what you got? Are you proud of what you have done?
Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry: Absolutely yes. I remember when we arrived to Sweden, a Syrian poet living there, my friend, came to me and said: “I’m proud of you, of your project”. All the emails arriving, are filling me of pride. We will see when the film come out somewhere, which the people feedback will be.
Gabriele Del Grande: You know we activated the web trend of selfies with “I’m with the bride” sign. Well, a selfie arrived from one of the most important Iraqi poet in Baghdad. But also from other friends who have some film clubs in the Tunisian countryside. Everything is beautiful!
Antonio Augugliaro: The excitement of making this journey has been great. On the train between Copenhagen and Malmo, the last border, we were all ready with cameras to record the passage of the border. But it has been a moment of so strong emotion that we all have broken out in tears. We hugged each other and that’s a piece of film that, unfortunately, we could not tell, because our eyes were glazed, the cameras pointed at the ceiling. If possible, now that the movie is over, keeping on receiving messages from people believing in this project, that emotion and that pride are even bigger.
Valeria Verdolini: Thinking about it, there three levels. There is an artistic product, which is a film. There is a political project, just beginning and increasing the message through the crowdfunding campaign. And then there is our experience, four days of unrestrained feelings. If there weren’t cameras, they would be however four movie days. Then there is our gratitude to these people, that have grown fond of us, have looked at us and said: “You are the children that heaven sends us”. They are strong words, loading you of responsibility, paying you for everything.
Antonio Augugliaro: Somebody said once: “Change yourself to change the world.” That’s what we did.