The Land Between, the hard life in the woods dreaming of Europe

From the woods of Gourougou mountain, in Morocco, it’s possible to see the Spanish town of Melilla, a strip of Europe along the African coast. That’s where the looks and dreams of a group of sub-Saharans converge, tens of African migrants that, after covering thousands of kilometers, are blocked on the slopes of the mountains, a middle ground between dream and reality. It is among them that the Australian director and documentary filmmaker David Fedele has lived for about ten months. The result of this experience is the wonderful The Land Between, a documentary that in 2014 won the award for the Best Feature-length Documentary at Fife, International Environment Film Festival, member of the Green Film Network. The Parisian Festival is going to take place again in February 2015, from 3rd to 10th, with 101 films and more than 20 web-documentaries.

The Land Between's poster

Fedele works as embedded, collecting images and statements of those who look at Melilla like the promised Land, that land called Europe where to aspire to have a better future.

The biggest obstacle is the high barrier just in front of the town, funded by the European Union as the Moroccan guards, responsible for monitoring the flow of illegal immigrants. Across the border there is a reception camp, an opportunity that is often denied by the guards who send the migrants back, sometimes after having robbed and beaten them.

So the mountains, halfway between Melilla and the Moroccan town of Nador, are the only area where they are able to stop and waiting for a new assault on the barrier. A hostile natural refuge that tastes like a Purgatory and where African from different countries live in brotherhood, after escaping from lands of drought and unproductive harvest, but also from the war, leaving behind their homes, their affections and their country. Woods are their home, a place to live together, giving each other support, building shelters and pastimes, praying and organizing new attempts to reach Europe. Occasionally they walk for hours to collect water or to reach Nador where it is hopefully possible to obtain something from alms or rummaging through the waste.

About this the author, with whom we chatted, says: “There is a very particular human rights story and issue that the film is about, which concerns the violence and mistreatment of migrants by both the Moroccan and Spanish authorities. But I didn’t want just to focus on this. Instead I attempted to show the daily life of the migrants, living with dignity in these terrible conditions. I wanted to “humanize” the story, and allow the migrants to tell their own story”.

Migrants' daily life waiting for a new attempt to jump the barrier

The Land Between plunges us into this reality, closely with those who fight every day for themselves at the cost of humiliation and injustice.

David Fedele’s documentary work is clear and authentic, and aims to bring the viewer in a reality without filters, recalling paradigms of Flaherty’s documentary or French direct cinema. In this regard the director states: “My films are very minimalistic. I don’t add music and there is no narration or voice-over, and very few interviews. I prefer to observe, and I attempt to “capture a reality” that is playing out before me. I then leave it up to the viewer to interpret what they are watching, in their own way. So I am more about attempting to move an audience emotionally”.

The brilliant idea of the director is to include a sort of self component that comes spontaneously from migrants’ reactions and their references to the camera and the film: sometimes with a polemical attitude, but in some cases understanding the potential opportunity to raise an alarm to the world, to make their voices heard even by an apparently not caring Europe.

Aicha, with her four children, lived in the woods before being arrested

A different point of view that David Fedele brings out, in contrast with the one we are used to through the mainstream medias. “The images and stories that we generally get to see in the mainstream media are typically dramatic and sensationalist and feed into a fear that exists in certain parts of society … of migration, of difference, of “the other”. And we hardly ever get an opportunity to actually hear from the migrants themselves. With The Land Between, I wanted to tell the story of what happens when nothing is happening. I call it the “story behind the story”. When the journalists go home, when the reporters are not interested in the “story” anymore. THAT is what I am interested in, and these are the stories that we are seldom told. I am interested in, and attempting to show, the similarities between people, rather than the differences. It is only when we focus on the things that we have in common, when we see a reflection of ourselves in “the other”, that we can begin to appreciate and empathize with the situation, and the people involved”.