The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Documentary “Prisoners of Fate”: In the waiting loop of the asylum system

In "Prisoners of Fate", Mehdi Sahebi documents the uncertain everyday life of refugees in the mills of the local asylum system. The film celebrated its premiere in Locarno last summer and is now being released in cinemas in German-speaking Switzerland.

The filmmaker, who himself came to Switzerland as a refugee from Iran in 1983, accompanied his protagonists for several years as they struggled to find their feet in their new country - Switzerland.

For example, there is an Afghan couple whose young son was left behind in dramatic circumstances when they fled; the wife and husband are desperately fighting for their family to join them. Or the Iranian Mahmad, who can only find inner peace after traumatic war experiences with excessive strength training.

Special access

The first contacts were made back in 2015, when Sahebi was invited to accompany the project of a refugee choir in Zurich with his camera. It quickly became clear that he had special access to the Afghan and Iranian refugees - not only because of his knowledge of the language and culture: "I was also quickly on an equal footing with them because I had shared a similar fate," explains Sahebi in an interview with the Keystone news agency SDA.

The director was aware "that my film project was only just beginning after the final concerts and that I wanted to continue accompanying my protagonists". As a result, the greatest work consisted of "giving the main characters a deep profile, shedding light on their background stories, filming touching and meaningful scenes from their everyday lives and tracing their relationship to Switzerland and their homeland".

During filming, the director and the protagonists were confronted with new developments in their countries of origin - the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan or the popular uprisings in Iran following the violent death of Mahsa Amini. The political situation in both countries resembles "a nightmare that seems to have no end". This is also reflected in the fates of the protagonists.

Awaken empathy

Does Mehdi Sahebi hope that the film can influence the debate on asylum policy in Switzerland and Europe? He has his doubts about that, replies the director. "Films can create awareness, but they alone cannot change political decisions."

On the other hand, films could help to "awaken empathy and promote a deeper understanding of the fates of asylum seekers". It is to be hoped that the public will be encouraged to "show solidarity with the people affected and look for humane solutions".

Second appearance in Locarno

Mehdi Sahebis premiered in Locarno last summer. The director is no stranger there. In 2006, Mehdi Sahebi received an award at the Critics' Week for his first feature film "Time of Farewell". In it, he sensitively documents the death of a friend and his unsparing confrontation with life. The touching film was subsequently screened at numerous festivals.

"Prisoners of Fate" has also been nominated for the Swiss Film Award in the Best Documentary category. The prize will be awarded on March 22. *

* This text by Theodora Peter, Keystone-SDA, was realized with the help of the Gottlieb and Hans Vogt Foundation.


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