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IT WILL BE CHAOS (2018) review

June 17, 2018

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produced by: Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo
directed by: Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo
rated: not rated
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: June 18, 2018 & June 20, 2018 (HBO) 

 

World Refugee Day is coming up on June 20th and I bet you’re wondering what to do on such an occasion. Don’t worry, I didn’t know it was a thing either, but I was made aware of it after watching the new HBO Documentary “It Will Be Chaos” from husband-and-wife filmmakers Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, a stirring and harrowing five-year look at the refugee crisis spanning the Mediterranean Sea. The film follows brave asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria, who have left their war-torn home seeking freedom and safety for themselves and their family. While immersing viewers in their plight, the film also includes Italian locals whose lives have been impacted by the massive influx of immigrant arrivals. These are complex and desperate situations and a film like this is necessary to humanize what we may or may not hear about on the news. 

In the summer of 2011, Luciano and Piscopo flew to Lampedusa, Italy and began filming the tale of two sides of the crises: the refugees and the locals. In doing so, they were able to gain in-depth access into refugee camps that had rarely been seen and captured the frustrations that exist on both sides. If you’ve heard of this island in Southern Italy, then maybe you saw the Oscar-nominated documentary “Fire At Sea” by Gianfranco Rosi from a couple years ago or you typically keep up to date with world news, especially when it comes to the immigrant situation impacting Europe for some years now.

 

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If you’re unfamiliar with Lampedusa, it’s an island in Southern Italy (with a population of roughly 6000) that has made world headlines in recent years as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern migrants hoping to make a new life in Europe. Like “Fire at Sea”, this documentary captures the reality the people of Lampedusa experience as migrants land on its shores on a weekly basis.

The film opens as coffins are being transported to a sea port in Lampedusa, after a shipwreck occurred in 2013, killing 368 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Somalia. Surviving family members are seen crying over coffins, while others anxiously hope their loved ones body will surface or be identified. We’re introduced to one survivor, Aregai Mehari, a former soldier for fifteen years who worked as a guard at a prison in Eritrea for ten dollars a month. He was on the boat that sank with his cousins, yet only he survived. Luciano and Piscopo will check in with Aregai throughout “It Will Be Chaos” as we follow his journey to seek asylum in another country. What we see within the first ten minutes of the film is certainly an atmosphere that lives up to the film’s title.

 

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This is certainly a terrible situation and indeed chaos. One can’t help but imagine what such an experience would be like for the travelers and for the locals who live in the country where the migrants wind up. Domenico, a local fisherman gets emotional as he shares how he answered the boat’s distress call and was only able to save eighteen lives with his friend, Raffaele, revealing how the circumstances can be as traumatic for the locals as it is for the survivors. Raffaele expresses concern for Domenico, who now finds it difficult to go back out to sea after what he’s been through.

It’s around this time where it becomes clear that “It Will Be Chaos” is a documentary less concerned with an overview of the situation in the Mediterranean and more focused on providing a look at who the people are involved, something news blurbs simply cannot do. There’s a desperate need for the stories of the unheard to be told and that’s exactly what’s taking place here.

Giusi Nicolini, mayor of Lampedusa and peace prize winner, stresses how the refugees should not be considered as “illegals”, as some citizens tend to call them, but rather asylum seekers, indicating she is well aware that they are people who want a better life like anyone in their situation would. We see her have a meeting with U. S. diplomat William L. Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration and listen in as he shares how the top priority must be “to save people from dying” and how they must “take urgent action and strong international coordination”. A longtime supporter of migration, Swing stresses how it is their duty to “receive the refugees with decent and adequate reception standards”. That’s fine, but Nicolini and other local officials are the ones who have to hear the concerns and pleas of the refugees.

 

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There are other talking heads in the film, but they aren’t recorded the way we normally see in documentaries. They are filmed on the street or at their place of work, often surrounded by those who seek help or want answers. There’s Manuel Barroso, the 11th president of the European Commission and European Commisioner, Cecilia Maelstrom, the latter of whom shares how survivors will have to initially be charged with illegal migration by the DA office until they are placed somewhere.

We hear from Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, briefly and also meet Minister of Integration, Cecile Kyenge, who will later in the film share “the earth is not ours, the earth belongs to everyone”, a revealing stance which all viewers would do well to keep in mind. The Congolese-born Italian was appointed this role in 2013, making her the first black cabinet member in Italy. She is certainly an interesting figure and reading up on her after viewing “It Will Be Chaos”, I was convinced that Kyenge would make for an interesting documentary subject, especially after learning how the ophthalmologist and politician received racist insults from certain Italian politicians on the right and how their was a racist campaign against, reminding me that Americans don’t necessarily have a monopoly on racism.

Both Nicolini and Kyenge make their rounds to different locations where asylum seekers are being organized and relocated, while some people of Lampedusa can be seen voicing their concern. They feel the refugees are a burden and protest their arrival, asking politicians to “stay out of it”. One can be seen carrying a sign that says “Lampeduseans Rights Have Been Washed Away”, alluding to the mode in which many of the refugees arrive. While many officials have their hands tied, many locals assist the immigrants because they feel the government isn’t doing anything (or enough), one local shares how “we need a psychologist” and “if we don’t help them”, referring to the refugees, “it will be a disaster”.

 

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“It Will Be Chaos” also follows the Orfahli family, who hope to migrate from Syria to Germany. If you didn’t already know, this cannot be done simply by reserving flights online. It’s going to take leaving their home by boat with the help of a smuggler and then figuring out how to get to their destination goal by bus, train and foot – all while keeping their family of eight intact, hydrated and fed, using a limited budget. Most left Syria seeking peace of mind, leaving behind the unpredictable occurrence of rockets, air strikes and explosions, not to mention the possibility of abduction from thieves, thugs and militants.

When we meet Wael, the head of the Orfahli family, he is talking about a meeting point while eating dinner with his family. He shares how the plan is to meet a smuggler at 10pm in Basmane Square. He is told they will be taken by boat to an island and from there they will have a three-hour bus ride and then a two-hour walk to another meeting point. The concern at this point is how many others like Wael and his family will be there and, of course, how much all of it will cost. Other concerns, such as the weather during their departure, is an important factor. It definitely makes you rethink the kinds of thinks you consider when anticipating your own future endeavors. Wael has to plot the minutiae of his family’s exodus down to every last detail, even planning out the need to leave their home intermittently at night with their luggage (and life vests for all) in an effort to not draw attention. This is just not the kind of thing most viewers will be able to relate to, but such details are needed in order to understand someone else’s thought process.

Nothing goes as planned for Wael and his family. There’s always some kind of audible in play as they go about their journey. On the way to their meeting point, the family is seized by police and sent back. Although they’ve left Syria, they are technically in limbo at this time and left to await an opportune time to leave. Meanwhile, they are sent pictures of the home they left, which is shown as a newly destroyed after rockets hit their building.

Wael receives a call from his brother, Thair, who is already on the other side, who tells him not to cross, that it’s unsafe and very dangerous. Well, what’s the alternative? At this point, Wael is more concerned whether this source of transportation they’re about to get on is a rubber raft, or a wooden or steel boat. He doesn’t care if he dies, he just wants to leave and get to Greece. “I just want to cross the sea and for the kids to survive”, he states as nerves are frazzled and tempers flare within his family as the responsibility weighs heavy on his soul.

From here we see footage of the worried and concerned Orfahli family in a boat on the choppy Mediterranean and my mind wonders how anyone in such a perilous situation could have the wherewithall to record any video. They send video clips back to their family on land, letting them know of their situation and then the boat starts filling with water. As passengers try to empty the water, pleas are made to call the Greek Coast Guard for help. Again, the title of the documentary comes to realization. I can’t imagine making all this planning and preparation, sizing up a life jacket for your young child for the journey at sea, only to get to the point where you or your family die.

At this point in the film, there is a scene in which a thirty-six year-old captain recounts what happened as the boat off the coast of Lampedusa sank, killing 368 people. The mournful man is interviewed in prison and explains through tears how it wasn’t his fault. Water was leaking into the engine, something was wrong. He took a T-shirt , dipped it in gasoline and lit it to call for help, for anyone in nearby or in the distance to see and then he heard the screams.

 

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The Orfahli family make it to land, starting off on the Greek island of Lesbos and it’s at this point in the film where I’m just grateful that Luciano and Piscopo chose to follow a family that made it out alive. The family will now deal with a new set of challenges, like staying together among a crowd of others just like them. At one point, as they make their way to Athens, they lose their children. As any parent can relate, the panic of “They were just here a minute ago” sets in and they scramble to back track and find them. When refugee officials find the children, viewers will be as elated as their parents. Their next stop is the Greek mainland as the family boards a charter ferry to then catch a bus to Macedonia. From there they’ll cross five countries to get to Germany, from bus to train to bus and then on foot.

The family maintains a positive attitude as they plot out the next course of their journey. They have come so far and they are together and as they prepare to travel again, they can be heard singing “Germany Germany, we’re going to Germany” despite not having enough clothes for the various climates they will navigate, leading Wael to add, “I’m going to go to Germany, but I’m going to freeze on the way there,” which makes them all laugh. It’s true that sometimes a sense of humor is what one must cling on to in order to survive and this is a family well aware of that. “We always laugh and joke to make it easier on ourselves,” Wael shares, knowing that if his children saw him or his wife afraid, they too would be afraid. So, despite what uncertainties lie ahead for the next day, it is important to him to keep their spirits light.

“It Will Be Chaos” checks in on the situation in other Italian towns where hundreds of refugees are relocated. In Riace, former school teacher and current mayor, Domenico Lucano, is seen busily sorting out the needs of many. He seems beleaguered yet optimistic that something can be done to satisfy both the refugees and his villagers. Reading up on Lucano reveals that he would go on to gain worldwide attention as an innovator in dealing with hundreds of refugees in a way that revitalized his village. 

However, there are still Italian locals who feel conflicted about the refugee situation. There are still some who protest and yet others who help where they can. One local cobbler repairs a flip-flop for a young Somalian girl (likely her only shoe, who probably walked on it for miles). “All these immigrants coming to Italy”, he shares in frustration, “Someone must have told them this is America. But in Italy they go hungry now.” 

Many Italians stand with the nationalist movements of Greece, Hungary and France, hoping for an end to immigration and immediate deportation, stating it’s a deadly situation for Italy and for the rest of Europe. In the Italian town of Falerna, asylum seekers can be seen living in an occupied resort while citizens feel the amount of immigrants coming in is unreasonable. “This is an invasion”, one woman says while protesting in the street, stating they have no space there to live. It’s a concern for the locals and mayor Giovanni Costanza to work out as the frustrated asylum seekers await proper documentation, informing them where they’ll be placed. In the meantime, many of the refugees will be placed in camps that find them questioning whether they are military prisoners or refugees, wondering if their human rights are respected.

When we regroup with the Orfahli family, they are now riding a cramped train through Serbia, making their way to the Croatian/Austrian border where they’ll travel by foot. At night, they make their way by the flashlights on their cell phones and again I find myself wondering how they’re able to keep those devices charged. The family arrives at a tent camp in Tovarnik, Croatia as they make their way to the Hungarian border. Wael gets calls of encouragement from his brother, urging him to be strong and clever. After twenty-four days of travel, the family finally arrive at Ohrdruf, Germany, where they are reunited with Wael’s brother and his family. Five days later, the European Union seal its borders, leaving thousands of refugees stranded in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Aregani is about to meet someone in Stockholm who will hopefully help him receive asylum. He is told by his cousin to be confident and not show fear when using a fake ID. He too is successful in realizing his goal and is eventually granted asylum in Sweden where he currently resides since escaping Eritrea in 2009. We learn later that the northeast country in the Horn of Africa still has no national elections, no legislature and no independent media since 2001. Religious freedom remains severely curtailed and according to the UN, Eritreans remain subjects of one of the world’s most oppressive governments. Aregani lives as a cook at a refugee center in Stockholm and every October 3rd, he travels back to Lampedusa to commemorate the 368 refugees who perished at sea.

The film closes with informational text that reports where things for the people we’ve just spent time with. After seven years of conflict, over 11 million Syrians, about half the population, have been forced to flee their homes. It’s believed that hundreds of thousands have been killed. From 2011 to 2018, it’s estimated that more than 180,000 people lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean trying tot seek safety in Europe. The real figure of fatalities is unknown, since many deaths are never recorded.

If anything is to be taken away from “It Will Be Chaos” its that trauma reverberates and manifests itself in a variety of ways. Wael misses Syria. Not the war-torn Syria he had to leave, but the homeland in his heart. He struggles with feeling lost and alone. Although he and his family have settled in Germany, he is just one of many who feel this way. Such trauma is haunting for all involved – those who fled and those who are impacted by migrant arrivals.

The bottom line is there are people out there who have the right to want a better life for themselves and their loved ones, who deserve to wake up and not wonder if their home will be bombed or not live in fear because of a religious faith they may have. The immigration situation isn’t going away anytime soon. Just this morning there was a report of migrants being rerouted from Italy to Spain and there’s the current situation here in the United States as well. “It Will Be Chaos” serves to inform and remind us that the migrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers – whatever you want to call them – are just like you and me.

The powerful and important film made its world premiere at the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival in May and also played at the 2018 Berkshire International Film Festival this month. “It Will Be Chaos” will air on HBO on June 18 with an encore performance on June 20, tied to World Refugee Day. Check out the trailer here.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

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