Can movies bring Germans, refugees closer together?

Filmmakers and refugee advocates from around the world recently gathered at the 'Film, Flight and Interculturality' conference in Frankfurt to talk about the role of film in uniting Germans and refugees.

Isabelle de Pommereau
Kurdish filmmaker Shaho Nemati (r.) and Basmeh Soleiman are part of a group who created the documentary 'Life on the Border.'

Imraan Safi has come a long way since he landed alone in Munich, Germany, after fleeing the Taliban at age 15. Now a curator for Munich’s Kino Asyl, a German film festival that is managed and curated by refugees, he says he’s connected the dots in his integration journey. After learning the German culture, he is helping Germans better understand his culture through films.

“The more you know about us, the closer to get to us,” said Mr. Safi, who is one of the 150 filmmakers and refugee advocates from around the world who recently gathered at the “Film, Flight and Interculturality” conference in Frankfurt to talk about the role of film in bringing Germans and refugees closer together.

Since Germany’s open-door policy led more than a million refugees to arrive in the country in 2015, many initiatives have sprouted across the country to help refugees “integrate.” But at the conference, experts said it was time for Germany to trade its “giving to” attitude toward refugees in favor of a more inclusive “doing with” mentality. “Refugees are here,” says Katrin Willmann of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, which organized the conference along with the German Film Institute. “We have to help society grow into a society that recognizes its diversity and accept[s] it. Cinema is a type of art that entertains and connects people emotionally.” 

With the conference, Christine Kopf of the German Film Institute says, “we want to get beyond this ‘we here, and they there’ mentality.”

Before he arrived in Germany, Kurdish filmmaker Shaho Nemati was part of a team who helped children make a documentary, “Life on the Border,” about life at camps in Kobane and Shengal. Mr. Nemati said he hoped it would help Germans see refugees differently. “We are not animals who need to be ‘integrated,’ ” says Nemati, who lives at a refugee camp near Frankfurt while his asylum application is pending. “We are human beings, and we come with our education, with our individual cultures.”

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