Midnight Traveler
Regissør: Hassan Fazili
(USA, Storbritannia, Qatar, Canada)

MIGRANTS / The Fazili family are migrants. They record mobile phones of their dangerous journey from Afghanistan via the migrant route in the Balkans and to an uncertain future in Europe.


filmmaker Hassan Fazili fled to Tajikistan with his wife and two daughters in 2015, after the Taliban sentenced him to death. He had run a cafe in Afghanistan capital, Kabul, which was a creative meeting place for artists. Fazili's progressive view – that men and women could sit in the same cafe – was considered a threat by the mullahs, not to mention the movie he had made about a Taliban leader.

Dangerous route for migrants

Refusal of asylum led to a risky return to Afghanistan. Following tips from a close friend that Hassan would soon be arrested, the family decided to embark on a 560-mile journey and seek security in Europe. Along the way on the dangerous migrant route across the Western Balkans to Hungary, they made recordings with three mobile phones. The footage was edited together into a full-length documentary, Midnight Traveler who, among other things, won the jury's special award for best photography during the world premiere at the Sundance Festival.

The film is an intensely personal and emotionally moving account of a family's survivability. It is also a testimony to the stubbornness and perseverance of the many other refugees who are forced to follow the same route.

A personal portrait

Many documentaries have been made about refugee crisis, naturally, given that it is one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time. But Midnight Traveler stands out, not only with its closeness and warmth (it is doubtful if an outsider director would be able to bring us as close to this tight-knit family dynamic), but also with his raw and honest portrayal of how powerful and disillusioned a human being can be stay along the established refugee routes: There are no European rescuers, no utopian destination at the end of the journey, and we are witnessing a global systemic failure towards some of the world's most vulnerable. But it is not the style of the Fazili family – which is appealing, dry and humorous – to make political statements; the conclusion we must draw ourselves.

"We have come to a place as bad as our own country." Director and refugee Hassan Fazili

Cynical smugglers

Desperation forces the family into the arms of unreliable and cynical human smugglers. This gives the film a thrill that is more outrageous than nerve-wracking, as we sincerely hope luck is on their side. They are revealed as illegal immigrants and arrested in Sofia, where they are placed in a refugee camp. Here they wait uncertainly for weeks. However, the camp seems to provide some long-awaited rest – until right-wing gangs attack the refugees, without the police stopping the violence. "We have come to a place as bad as our own country." It is a heartbreaking finding of the growing hostility in a Europe they have sought for peace and freedom.

The family does not feel safe in Bulgaria and rushes to Serbia, where they are once again placed in a camp. The days are marked on the screen, approaching 500 as their names are put on a list of countless others waiting for a ready signal to travel to Hungary to process their asylum application. It becomes clear that our time refugees not experiencing that their perilous journey ends in safety, but rather in a protracted limbo of rootlessness and total powerlessness over their own future.

On life and death

From stealing fruit from a tree because the smugglers don't bring the food they promised, to sleeping in a vacated building on a snowy night – they do what they need to to survive. The exhaustion is written in the faces of the children, Nargis and Zahra, despite their lively behavior. The stress that comes from having to make vital choices without having the necessary information is hard on the parents: Should they wait for even more months in Belgrade for permission to enter Hungary, without knowing if and when they will receive it, or should they join smugglers on a new and demanding route through the woods, knowing that a young Afghan girl died on the same route just a few days earlier? It's a choice no parents want to make. It is easy to recognize this family, which can help replace indifference with empathy in a number of audiences.

When it comes to filming, filming becomes a means for the Fazili family to exert some kind of power over their destiny, though – as Hassan is painfully aware – they are locked in a narrative where the "best" recording is what does most hurt. After the four have reached Hungary, the endless wait begins again, this time in a prison-like transit zone. European dream, or a nightmare? The Fazili family refuses to nurture our complacency.

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