The extraordinary film that will change your mind about refugees

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Filmmakers, Emelie Mahdavian and Su Kim Photos courtesy of the filmmakers.

As conflicts spread and climate change worsens, the refugee crisis worldwide is breaking astounding records. There are currently 70.8 million forcibly displaced people around the globe, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Each and every one of these individuals has a tale to tell about overcoming immense obstacles and dangers as they sought safety and stability away from a home they were forced to leave. One such story is told in the documentary “Midnight Traveler,” a movie filmed by the Afghani director Hassan Fazili and his family on three cell phones over the course of three years. The film documents their displacement from Afghanistan after receiving threats from the Taliban because of a film Fazili made about the terrorist organization, and their unexpected journey toward Europe in search of refuge. 

Emelie Mahdavian and Su Kim, the producers of “Midnight Traveler,” spoke with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer about the award-winning film in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” Mahdavian, the editor, writer and producer of the film, was in touch with the Fazili family before they began filming “Midnight Traveler,” and explains how all along, both they and she had hoped their journey and story would be a much shorter, much less difficult tale to tell. Mahdavian also expresses the worries she experienced for the Fazili’s throughout the filming and production of this important work of art.

“I never knew what they were going to encounter,” Mahdavian explains. “And I never knew what kind of needs they would have, and whether I would be able to help them or not. And I was very concerned to make sure that it was clear to them that I wanted them not to put themselves in risk for the sake of the film. Unfortunately, the migrant route is a risky thing to be on, and there was not a lot that they often could do to protect themselves or keep themselves out of risky situations. So the film ends up documenting those.” 

To Kim, who also dealt with the more technical aspects of converting footage shot on cell phones into a film that could be screened in cinemas, the heart of the film is the unique perspective it lends to viewers about the crisis they’ve likely only read about in newspapers. 

“The story of the refugee crisis, the migration crisis, is really a story that's from the gaze of outsiders, and from the point of view of journalism, often,” Kim tells Scheer on his podcast. “And I think it's really hard to relate as a sort of a person living in a very comfortable [life] to imagine what happens when you take this journey. What was special for me with this material in this film was that I could imagine myself in his and his family’s situation, and then the worst thing that could happen happens, and then how would I react? I think that that gaze on that story hasn't been a part of the conversation.” 

“This is the story of our time, because the refugees,” Scheer responds, “wherever they're coming from, there's a tendency to try to sort of treat them as a problem for other people, intrusive to other societies. And we forget all of these people have their own harrowing story to one degree or another. They've been uprooted.” 

Throughout the conversation, the Truthdig Editor in Chief returns often to a powerful quote by Fazili, which Scheer interprets as a commentary on the political machinations, including those by the U.S. during its now nearly two-decade-long war with Afghanistan, that led him and his family to such perilous circumstances. “My family, like leaves ripped away from a tree in a storm, was taken from our land and thrown in every direction by outside forces,” Fazili says, “As a father, I am tired from the strain of protecting my family from threats we encountered on this route. But as a filmmaker, these wanderings and troubles are appealing to me, so we all became the subject of this film.” 

Listen to the full conversation between Mahdavian, Kim and Scheer as they discuss the technical, political and emotional aspects of “Midnight Traveler.”



Joshua Scheer