Evaporating Borders, and an interview with Iva Radivojevic
"Like DuBois, I wonder: 'Who shall let this world be beautiful?'" This is one of the most striking lines in the incredible documentary by Iva Radivojevic, which takes a lyrical and factual look at the pain, confusion, anger and death surrounding immigration in Cyprus.
I was honoured to get a short mailterview with Iva on the makings and thoughts behind the film. Enjoy.
ML: How long did it take you to make the film?
IR: It took about 3 years, from the concept to finish.
ML: Was there anything you witnessed that didn't make it into the film?
IR: There were many people we met, and a lot of stories we heard that didn't make it to the final cut. There is only so much that can fit into one film and no one film will ever tell the full story, it will tell a story.
ML: What prompted you to make it?
IR: I was an immigrant to Cyprus myself. My sister, mother and I moved after the war in Yugoslavia started. I'm very much interested in migration, the sense of identity and hybrid existence. My experience in Cyprus was of course much different from those of the new migrants coming to the country, who are fairing much worse. The same phenomenon being present through out the world, not just Cyprus. I thought it was something that needs to be talked about.
ML: The narrative feels like a series of journal entries. Did you do it this way deliberately or are they observations during your travels?
IR: I make extensive notes and write journals while I travel and shoot. I enjoy that process. The notes where later used to translate into the narration of the film. It reads like a letter to a friend or an essay. The essay film is something i wanted to explore with this project. I don't know if the next film will be the same.
ML: How did you learn about the scams, like the education scams and other underground activities?
IR: It's really not difficult. Institutionalized racism is part of the social fabric. It's not hidden. In general, there is very little understanding what racism means or what tolerance means (in Cyprus) and so it's out in the open, more exposed. Unlike in the US, where we try to be politically correct but underneath the surface the story is quite different.
ML: How did you get to talk to the people at the Hotel Onisillos? Was it hard to gain the trust of anyone you spoke with?
IR: It was tricky because the staff always wanted to be present and we needed special permission to film there. We had to ask them a number of times to leave and let us talk to the people in private. The people themselves were eager to tell their stories, to be heard. We had to explain the misconception that just because we have a camera, it doesn't necessarily mean that telling their story will have a direct result for their situation. According to them, unlike other journalists who came through, we took time to listen and kept coming back.
ML: How did it feel to hear all these different views from the pro and anti-immigration groups?
IR: Well, you always feel sad and disturbed that such hatred could exist in people. It's scary. The issue of migration is a sticky subject, especially in times of economic crisis, but when it comes to racism, it should be clear. You are either a racist or an anti-racist, choose which you will work toward.
ML: As a woman, what was it like for you to be in this country and setting?
IR: I'm trying to come up with am coherent way to answer this question and i could lend a few thoughts, but I can't know for certain if they are true or not. So I'll leave it like this, vague. ;)
ML: What song is the woman singing in Greek in Part 4, which also appears in the trailer? It's beautiful.
IR: It's a love song, not related to the migrants at all. It is very beautiful and she radiates it. The band that performs it is a Cypriot band called Sandy Brour.
ML: Did the film answer for you any of the introspective and retrospective questions you pose toward the end? -- Why do we cling to fixed identities, who is afraid and of what, etc.?
IR: Yes, it did but it's not a simple answer. It's a constant search and assessment. It's not one sole self reflective moment. We all have issues and prejudices and particular ways of looking at the world. It requires a process of constant self-reflection to check and re-check your approach, thoughts, actions, participation in the world. How are we contributing and how are we harming. It's not easy and we often forget, but the idea is to keep returning to that place.
ML: Have you ever come to find out what happened to some of the people you interviewed? If their papers went through or if they were ever allowed to stay or leave, and so on?
IR: Yes, I'm still in contact with some of the people. One family is Indonesia, waiting to make their way to Australia. Another family is in Turkey. Most people have left Cyprus because they couldn't bear it any longer. Yassin, the boy who assimilated, is still there. He's graduated high school and trying to figure out what's next.
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Evaporating Borders was a hit at this year's SXSW, HotDocs, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam, among other events where it was screened. Follow the film's Facebook page to keep up with more about the film and Iva's upcoming work. My thanks again to Iva!