DIRECTOR: ANNA BRASS
“In 2009 I read an article about the situation of refugees in Greece. Until that moment, I had thought that refugees were safe once they had arrived in Europe no matter in which country. I had to realize that I had no idea. Now, four years later and after having made this movie, I know quite a bit more and this experience certainly made me change a lot – the sad thing is: The situation for refugees in Greece and Europe didn’t.”
Interview by Yubo Fernandez
Image (above), Anna Brass, Director of the Award Winning Film “Leaving Greece”
Q: What was the first step in creating your film Leaving Greece?
A: “The catalyst for Leaving Greece was an article that appeared in a German magazine in 2010. In this article they described the situation of refugees, especially young or even minor ones, in Greece. Until then I didn’t know that 90% of all refugees entered Europe via Greece and that there was this law, called Dublin II, saying that a refugee had to apply for asylum in the country of entrance. This meant that Greece should actually deal with 90 % of all refugees. The situation was ridiculous: Greek authorities were absolutely overburdened, the applications for asylum were not executed, the refugees had no shelter, no food, no work and the EU monitored Greece’s borders so that no one could get out. What me shocked most, however, was the fact that refugees were dying while trying to leave Greece for another European country hoping to find a less chaotic situation there than it was in Greece. For me, reading this, I could absolutely not believe that even within Europe, refugees were not safe and that crossing a border in the times of “Schengen” could cause death. (The “Schengen”-treaty means that you can go from one European country to another without even showing your passport.) So I went to Greece and started researching myself.”
Q: Often I see documentary films that deal with difficult subjects in our society yet they don’t really provide a solution. Do you think Leaving Greece somehow holds an answer to the refugee problem in Europe, even though many unanswerable questions might remain?
A: “Unfortunately, I think Leaving Greece does not provide a solution, because the problem is so very complex and much afflicted with emotions that it’s not easy to provide a solution. My intention was to call people’s attention to the situation in Greece and I wanted to demonstrated that the Dublin-II-Law is nonsense. (Why should Greece, almost all by itself, cope with the European refugee problem?) Last year, with Angela Merkel’s decision to allow refugees come to Germany – despite Dublin-II – I thought that Dublin-II is now part of the past. Now, one year later, it was re-established, though… (The only thing that changed was the number behind the name. It’s now called the Dublin III Regulation) My wish is for people to recognize: I could be the refugee! So treat them as you would like to be treated.”
Q: Is it harder to get started or to keep going? For the dedicated flmmakers reading this interview; what was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
A: “I think it was harder to keep going. Because very often I was in a situation where I had to ask myself: Can I film this? The scenes in Patras for example when the young boys try to enter the trucks. And after shooting I had a place to sleep whereas my protagonists hadn’t. That was a very awkward feeling. And of course it was not easy to get shooting permissions. In order to be able to shoot in the port of Patras, I had to write many letters. It took almost a year until I was allowed to film there.”
Q: What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
A: “I don’t know… When I started filming I was very naive. I filmed in almost impossible and very often, clandestine situations. And I didn’t know the consequences. If I had known the consequences I couldn’t have filmed scenes, like the one at the airport in Berlin or the one in the aliens department. But on the other hand I put my protagonists into danger. Kaka had to go to prison for a few days, because I provided him with a camera and asked if he could film when they crossed the border. They got caught and the police thought he was the trafficker, because in their opinion he wanted to spy the route and record it; so this was a terrible lesson for me to learn. Know the consequences of your actions!”
Q: When I wanted start making movies, my first decision was to go to NY then Santo Domingo. How does where you live influence how and what you make, and how do you think Germany currently affects your work and process?
A: “That’s a very interesting question that I had never thought about before. I don’t know if Germany affects my work. I would rather say that some filmmakers that I like influence my work, or maybe the way I was raised and the values I was raised with. Are those values German? I don’t know (my mother was Czech, e.g.). I often go to International Documentary Film Festivals and I have never really noticed a difference in filmmaking according to the nationality of the filmmaker. Maybe in fiction films, that’s possible… But in documentaries I don’t think so.”
Q: Sometimes there’s a moment when something is happening and there’s this human part of you that wants to stop recording and put your arm around the person, but then there’s this other part that might be thinking ‘hold the shot, zoom in, this is it’. Do you struggle with that internally?
A: “Oh yes – as described before, to shoot those scenes in Patras was very difficult for me. There is a very strange thing about making documentaries: you almost wish for a crisis in your protagonists life, because then you have a story, you have something to tell. This is a paradox that I know very well. But I think, it happens more often that I want to put my arm around the person I am shooting with, than that I wish for something to happen in their lives!”
Q: What are some of the personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?
A: “Hmm, this again is a tough question, because it again depends on what kind of movies you like. I personally would never stage or re-enact scenes. I love to observe, I am open to things that happen in front of my camera and try not to be upset when things develop into a different direction than intended initially. Generally I love my protagonist and I like to spend a lot of time with them. Time is crucial for making documentaries. Patience! Trying to show a person the way he or she really is. Not to ‘use’ a protagonist as a ‘statement-deliverer’. But of course, there are always many people involved in filmmaking and very often you have to compromise (that can be bad, but that can be very good as well…) So openness to what happens in front of your lens and to the opinion of other people, together with time and patience, I think a very important!”
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker reading this interview, who wanted to create a documentary film?
A: “As I said before: be patient, love your protagonists, burn for your theme, because you will have to spend a lot of your lifetime working on it! But again – this applies to the films I like. There are so many ways of making a film and there is probably no ‘right and wrong’. There are just some rules you should hang on to. And for me this is: We are responsible for our protagonists, we have to protect them, never ‘exhibit’ him or her.”
“The film follows the three Afghan teenagers Hossein, Reza and Kaka over one and a half years, documenting their attempts to find a place in this union of countries that is called Europe; that had once been founded upon the values of Liberty Equality Fraternity. A film about friendship – and the contradictory European refugee policy.” – From FilmFreeway. “Leaving Greece” was a Student Category Award Winner in the November round of the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival and a triumph for debut filmmaker, Anna Brass.
Q: What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
A: “I think one of the most inspiring films for me was Christina Frei’s Giant Buddhas and the films by Thomas Riedelsheimer (Rivers and Tides, etc…) Christian Frei’s film I liked, because it’s very thoughtful and beautifully shot. Thomas Riedelsheimer’s films I like because they are very poetic and a poem for the soul. After having seen their films I wanted to become a filmmaker myself. But since then I have seen many fantastic movies. A film I have seen last year and that I think about a lot, is a Korean film called With or Without You.”
Q: For those emerging artists who are reading this interview; can you please give a message to the young filmmakers out there?
A: “Well, for me filmmaking is the most beautiful thing in the world. But it takes a lot of energy and sometimes it’s frustrating, because you don’t get the money you need or things turn out differently than you had wished for. Not every movie you make will be a success. But very movie you make will be an enrichment to your life. So don’t lose heart and do your thing!”
Yubo Fernández is an Actress, Writer, Producer, Director and the Founder and President of Obuy Films. She lived in NYC, attended Atlantic Film School Workshops and returned to study cinematography at Santo Domingo’s Altos de Chavon School and studied under Claude Kerven, Chair of the Filmmaking Department at New York Film Academy. “How Do We kill Luisa”, “Peldanos de Dolor” and “Constanza” are three films that she’s produced. Yubo is also featured in several films from the Dominican Republic.