Climb every mountain

Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Journey ofHOpe follows the fortunes of a Turkish family in their courageous but ill-fated trek across EurOpe, their goal illegal entry and a new life in Switzerland. As Trevor Johnston discovers, director Xavier Koller finds a positive lesson in the midst of tragedy.

‘Very much‘ surprised by the American Academy‘s decision to add to the clutter on his mantlepiecc. Swiss filmmaker Xavier Koller was engrossed in an entirely different project in late 1988 when a news report caught his attention. A product of Switzerland‘s increasing problem of illegal immigration. a party of hopeful Turks had been caught in snowy conditions on the mountains after crossing the border from Italy and a number of deaths, among them a young boy, had ensued. ‘It caused a lot of waves at home’ recalls Koller, ‘because this sort of catastrophe usually tends to happen abroad. I was very taken emotionally by the story. That the boy had died after they’d made this journey and come over the mountains, for me it was almost a negative fairy tale.’

Opening on a modest farm in the Kurdish region ofTurkey. Koller’s film concentrates on one family, forced by a lack of economic prospects to leave their homeland and seek their future elsewhere. A distant relative has sent them a postcard from Switzerland, excited about the fortunes to be made in the country of the cuckoo clock, and so the decision is made to take a sea passage from Istanbul to Naples before heading north to the Swiss border. Selling their land and most of their possessions to finance the journey, father Haydar. mother Meryem and their 7-year-old son Mehmet Ali (the only one oftheir seven children they can actually afford to take with

than 60,000 people waiting to stay. Each village has to take a certain number and they put them into empty houses or build shelters for them. They have no work permits and so they just hang around, which means that the Swiss see them and think they’re having a good time. They get angry because it’s taxpayers’ money funding the camps. So the end result is that the racism get worse because of these frictions. I wanted to go against that, to tell people that they should open their hearts and not just their purses. I wanted the audience to come away more understanding.

‘In Europe, we get a lot ofinformation in the media about the political situation in other countries and about our attitude to foreigners at home in our own countries, so I don’t need to repeat this material. I tried to fill in the emotionl experience so that we’d get to know people we didn‘t know before. To find out a little bit more about what kind of people are actually coming. To find out how it feels to be among these people. This experience is actually the film.’

Certainly, Koller has created a credible,

them), are to endure the ignominy of the rootless I documentary-style record of the process of the

person and become easy prey for an unscrupulous smuggling organisation as they join the many thousands heading for the economic Mecca of Western Europe.

‘This story, but with a different ending, happens every night in Switzerland at the moment.‘ explains the director. ‘The amount ofemigrants entering the country is increasingly high. which creates a lot of racism. Just now there are more

i journey itself. We share the family‘s cramped

; conditions as stowaways on a freighter bound for i Italy and their moments of companionship with a i kindly truck driver on the autostrada; we

understand what it’s like to hang around a train station late at night. not knowing the language.

; with very little money and a child badly needing sleep; we’re given a sobering picture ofgrasping, shady smuggling operations packing a horde of


Oxcar-wlnnerJoumey ol Hope 3 human contraband into a small van before leaving them to fend for themselves on the mountains.

While in many ways it would appear then that these mafiosi types are the villains of the piece, Koller himselfputs it down to the set of circumstances that encourages the existence of a substantial criminal organisation. ‘In 1988, at the time the incident on which the film is based actually happened, the trip from Milan to Switzerland cost around £700 per person.’ he points out. ‘Now it’s more like £2100 per person. Every night around 30 people cross the Swiss border, illegally, so we’re talking about a very lucrative business we’ve created. By making it almost impossible to get into the country legally, we keep making the fence higher, and that only drives people towards the smugglers.‘

But surely ifentry to the country was made simpler, Switzerland would be overwhelmed by a tide of immigration that it’s economy might not be able to support. Where do you see a solution?

‘Well, I’m no visionary. IfI had a solution I would offer it. I’m only a filmmaker with an opinion. In a way it’s good that so many people are coming because it will eventually force their mother countries to make political and economic changes to stop their populations draining away. If this also forces the West to help them in that

process then the situation we have at the moment

will be working towards the positive.’ Journey ofHope has its first British run at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Sunday 21 July.


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