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Learn about the lives of refugees and the effects of policy by watching these documentaries and films.

Documentaries

Watan (2018)

James L. Brown, Bill Irving

The film features a series of interwoven portraits of Syrians eking out lives in the major refugee camps and cities of Jordan. Their struggle shows the human face of the refugee crisis, the first steps beyond their escape from imminent danger. The stories from the camps reveal a very real struggle for normalcy and dignity in a situation that is anything but.

Watan seeks to inspire action through connection, empathy and recognition, in a way that allows these people to speak for themselves. It shines a much-needed light on the human stories at the centre of the global debate of immigration and asylum, giving a voice to the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Watch the trailer

Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time (2017)

Behrouz Boochani

On the picturesque coast of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, beyond the sandy beach and palm trees, almost a thousand asylum seekers are kept behind wire fences by armed guards.

We’re used to hearing about Manus and allegations of the crimes committed inside. We’re less familiar with seeing them with our own eyes. Shot entirely on a mobile phone, new documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time gives us a glimpse into the everyday injustice committed in the name of Australian border security. Rare, frustrating calls home. Cramped conditions. Abuse at the hands of guards. Lasting psychological damage. Self-harm. Poor medical supplies. Murder.

Watch the trailer here

Human Flow (2017)

Directed by Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is a renowned artist and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, known as the director and producer of Human Flow. An unforgettable journey into our current global refugee crisis, capturing the suffering and pain felt by refugees worldwide. This documentary is impossible to ignore as the camera lingers through the film as a forceful way of humanization.

Ai Weiwei re-paints those who have been painted without a face and reduced to an economical statistic. The documentary gives the voiceless a voice, illuminates the struggles of 65 million people around the world who are displaced victims to the cruelest practices exercised against a human being: a denial of their basic human rights and a deprival of their security.

Watch the trailer here

Rifles or Graffiti (2017)

Jordi Oriola Folch

This film chronicles Morocco’s 40 year occupation of Western Sahara and the Sahrawis’ struggle to continue their nonviolent activism and pressure Morocco into complying with a UN sanctioned referendum on self-determination.

This is the incredible tale of the protest movement in Western Sahara. Followed by a Q&A with the Australian Western Sahara Association.

Watch the trailer

Hope Road (2017)

Tom Zubrycki

A refugee from the Sudanese civil war, Zacharia (one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan) lives in Sydney, Australia, with his partner and daughter.  He desperately wants to do something for his village, now in the newly created nation of South Sudan.  His dream is to build a much-needed school, and he enlists the backing of numerous well-intentioned Australians.  Janet, a dedicated supporter, joins him on a 40-day charity walk from the Queensland border to Sydney to raise funds for this venture.  Will this strategy raise the funds they need? Thwarted by escalating conflict back in South Sudan, and shocked by a broken relationship, Zac must decide what’s important in his life.

Hope Road was an official selection at the Melbourne International Film Festival and in competition at the Sydney Film Festival.

Watch the trailer here

Stop the Boats (2018)

Simon Kurian

Stop the Boats tells the story of how Australia used a three word slogan to demonise people seeking asylum, fleeing war and persecution; condemning them to indefinite offshore detention and torture in prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru. The story is told by people seeking asylum including children from within detention centres, secretly filmed in Nauru and Manus.

The film features among others Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani, children detained in Nauru. Dr Munjed al Muderis, Julian Burnside QC, Ben Doherty, Phil Glendenning, Dr Ai-Lene Chan, Dr Peter Young, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Andrew Willkie MP and the late Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Watch the trailer

The Staging Post (2017)

Jolyon Hoff

The Staging Post follows two Afghan Hazara refugees, Muzafar and Khadim. Stuck in Indonesia after Australia ‘stopped the boats’ and facing many years in limbo, they built a community and started the school which inspired a refugee education revolution.

A real-life, real-time, multi-platform documentary. The Staging Post is about friendship, connection and the power of community.

Watch the trailer here

Chasing Asylum (2016)

Directed by Eva Orner

Chasing Asylum exposes the real impact of Australia’s offshore detention policies and explores how ‘The Lucky Country’ became a country where leaders choose detention over compassion and governments deprive the desperate of their basic human rights. The film features never before seen footage from inside Australia’s offshore detention camps, revealing the personal impact of sending those in search of a safe home to languish in limbo. Chasing Asylum explores the mental, physical and fiscal consequences of Australia’s decision to lock away families in unsanitary conditions hidden from media scrutiny, destroying their lives under the pretext of saving them.

Cast from the Storm (2016)

Directed by David Mason

Cast from the Storm is an award winning Australian documentary that tells a tender story of transformation, acceptance and belonging. Asfar, Maryam and Wiam face the usual challenges of navigating high school – with one difference. They were forced to leave their home countries and everything they knew behind. Now in Australia, they must start not only a new school, in a new country – but also a new life.

They join Treehouse Theatre, an after-school theatre group, which gives them the chance to share their extraordinary experiences.  A coming of age story, this uplifting documentary shares the reality of what it means to be a teenager and a displaced person. This is the story of what comes after, and what it means to remake your home.

Watch it for free

Constance on the Edge (2016)

Directed by Belinda Mason

Filmed over 10 years, Constance on the Edge is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of one refugee family’s resettlement story in Australia. Brave, lion-hearted, charismatic Constance, mother of six, confronts her painful past in war torn Sudan, and risks everything in Australia so her family can thrive. Mary, Constance’s niece, finds it impossible to find a job. Vicky, her daughter, studies every morning from 4am, hoping to get into university. Charles, 23, is struggling with alienation and depression.

Constance on the Edge gets to the heart of a contemporary untold story about the courage and resilience it takes to build new lives. The film also highlights the important role communities play in encouraging a sense of welcoming, healing and belonging.

Watch the trailer here

Life is Waiting (2015)

Iara Lee

Most people think that colonialism in Africa has ended. But in the territory of Western Sahara, the end of European rule only gave way to a new occupation, this time by Morocco. More than four decades later, the world continues to look the other way as the Sahrawi people face arrests, torture, and disappearances for demanding their independence.

Life Is Waiting, a new film by director Iara Lee, chronicles this struggle. What will it take for the people of Western Sahara to reverse decades of broken promises and gain their freedom? What lessons does Sahrawi resistance offer for nonviolent movements around the world? In Life Is Waiting, join an incredible cast of Sahrawi activists and artists as they offer their answers.

Watch the trailer here

Freedom Stories (2015)

Directed by Steve Thomas

Freedom Stories is a documentary based project that brings together a collection of personal stories from former asylum seekers who sought asylum in Australia at a time of great political turmoil circa 2001, but who have long since dropped out of the media spotlight. The people who have participated in our project are all now Australian citizens. Given the ongoing controversies over ‘boat people’ it is timely that their stories be heard.

Into the Fire: The Hidden Victims of the Atrocity in Greece (2013)

Directed by Kate Mara and Guy Smallman

Into the Fire is an investigative documentary looking at the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece, in the face of severe austerity measures and rising racism. Refugees flee their home countries on the search for safety. Due to its land border with Turkey, Greece is one of the main entry gates into Europe. Once they have entered Europe, European legislation prevents them from moving on to other European countries. In Greece however, refugees are faced with deficiencies in the asylum procedure and appalling detention and living conditions. Without housing, legal papers or support, they are faced with increasing and often violent racism.

The Land Between (2013)

David Fedele

THE LAND BETWEEN offers an intimate insight into the hidden and desperate lives of Sub-Saharan African migrants living in the mountains of northern Morocco. For most, their dream is to enter Europe by jumping a highly-militarised barrier into Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the African continent.

With unique and unprecedented access, this film documents the everyday life of these migrants trapped in limbo, as well as the extreme violence and constant mistreatment they face from both the Moroccan and Spanish authorities. It also explores many universal questions, including how and why people are prepared to risk everything, including their life, to leave their country, their family and friends, in search of a new and better life.

Watch the full documentary

When Mary Met Mohammad (2013)

Directed by Heather Kirkpatrick

This film follows the arrival of Tasmania’s first detention centre through the eyes of local Christian woman and knitting club member Mary and Muslim Afghan Hazara asylum seeker Mohammad, who is detained inside the centre, as they connect through the gift of a knitted beanie.

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Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea (2013)

Directed by Jessie Taylor

When she was 9, Zainab’s parents made the heartbreaking decision to leave their home in northern Afghanistan. They set out on a journey across the globe, putting the fate of their family in the hands of strangers. Across borders, behind bars and onto a smuggler’s boat – the family chased freedom. ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ tells Zainab’s story, and the story of many others who have trodden the same path.

Watch it here

Leaky Boats (2011)

Directed by Victoria Midwinter-Pitt

A moving documentary about how the Australian Government used the refugee boats as a mechanism to boost its standing in the polls during the election to clinch a victory.

War Child: Emmanuel Jal’s Story (2010)

Directed by C. Karim Chrobog

A former child soldier in Sudan, Emmanuel Jal is now an internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist who fights for peace and reconciliation in his home country. War Child intersperses original interviews, live concerts, and rare footage of Emmanuel Jal as a seven year-old boy.

Pushing the Elephant (2010)

Directed by Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel

This documentary tells the story of Rose Mapendo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As Rose fled the atrocities of war in DRC, she was forced to leave her five-year-old daughter, Nangabire, behind. With her other nine children, she was eventually resettled in Arizona, USA, where she works as a full-time advocate for refugees. Now, after 12 years apart, Rose and her daughter Nangabire are reunited.

Home Across Lands (2009)

Directed by John Lavall 

This documentary explores the journey of resettlement. It tells the story of a small group of Kunama refugees and how they re-establish their sense of community in their new home in the US.

What’s Going On? Child Refugees in Tanzania (2009)

UNHCR

This 10-part television series features UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie. She works with children who have been victimized by long years of civil strife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who have had to flee their homes for refugee camps in Tanzania.

Buy the film here

New Year Baby (2008)

Directed by Socheata Poeuv

Born in a Thai refugee camp on Cambodian New Year, filmmaker Socheata Poeuv grew up in the United States never knowing that her family had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. In this documentary, she embarks on a journey to Cambodia in search of the truth and why her family’s history had been buried in secrecy for so long.

Read more here 

Hope (2008)

Directed by Steve Thomas 

Hope is the story of Amal Basry, one of 400 Iraqi refugees on the ill-fated SIEV X, which sank between Indonesia and Australia, killing 353 people. Amal was one of only seven survivors who made it to Australia. Now she fights to reunite her family, and to ensure that this disaster is not forgotten.

Get the study guide prepared for secondary students by the Australian Teachers of Media

Forgotten Refugees: the Rohingya in Bangladesh (2007)

Amnesty International Australia

In March 2007 Amnesty International Australia joined UNHCR, the Centre for Refugee Research, and a number of other Australian NGOs for consultations with Rohingyan refugees who have fled from Burma to camps in Bangladesh. The documentary highlights the atrocious conditions faced by the 26,000 refugees, many of whom have spent over 16 years living in the camps.

Watch the short film

God Grew Tired of Us (2006)

Directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn

This documentary film is about three of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’, a group of some 25,000 young men who have fled the wars in Sudan since the 1980s, and their experiences as they move to the United States.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars (2005)

Directed by Zach Niles and Banker White

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars documents a band of six Sierra Leonean musicians who came together while living in a refugee camp in Guinea. Despite the unimaginable horrors of civil war, they were saved and brought hope and happiness to other refugees through their music.

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The Art of Flight (2005)

Davin Anders Hutchins 

This is a guerrilla documentary that was shot illegally in Egypt on camcorders and a laptop. This feature-length film tells the story of three people – a refugee from southern Sudan, a human rights activist from northern Sudan and an American journalist in self-imposed exile – all living in Cairo.

Anthem: An Act of Sedition (2005)

Directed by Tahir Cambis and Helen Newman

This documentary gives voice to everyday people affected by the ‘war on terror’ and Australia’s mandatory detention policies.

In the Shadow of the Palms (2004)

Directed by Wayne Coles-Janess

In the Shadow of the Palms is a multi-award winning production that details life in Iraq before, and during, the most controversial war of the 21st Century. It provides an intimate insight into the lives of ordinary people during Saddam’s Regime as they prepare for the rapidly approaching war.

Lost Boys of Sudan (2003)

Directed by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk

This documentary follows two Sudanese refugees on an extraordinary journey from Africa to America. Orphaned as young boys in one of Africa’s most vicious civil wars, Peter Dut and Santino Chuor survived lion attacks and militia gunfire to reach a refugee camp in Kenya along with thousands of other children. From there, remarkably, they were chosen to come to America. Safe at last from physical danger and hunger, a world away from home, they find themselves confronted with the abundance and alienation of contemporary American suburbia.

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Jenin Jenin (2002)

Directed by Mohammed Bakri

This documentary features interviews of Palestinians in a refugee camp in Jenin during April 2000. It is a film of despair, human tragedy, hatred, cynicism and, last but not least, of hope.

Barefoot to Herat (2002)

Directed by Majid Majidi 

This film was shot during two trips that Majid Majidi took in Western Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. In the first trip in November 2001, Majidi visited the refugee camp of Makaki, located in a Taliban-controlled area, and Mile 46, another small camp situated in a Northern Alliance held area. The second trip took place in February 2002 in the city of Herat now freed from the Taliban and in the hunger stricken camp of Maslakh, one of the largest in the world.

Frontiers of Dreams and Fears (2001)

Directed by Mai Masri

This film tells the heart-breaking story of two young Palestinian girls growing up in refugee camps in Beirut and Bethlehem. The film focuses on the friendship of two young girls, their daily life, their dreams, hopes and aspirations.

A Well Founded Fear (2000)

Directed by Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson

Tells the stories of oppression that brought political refugees to America and the system that decides who gets to stay and who gets sent back, perhaps to prison or death.

Australia Has No Winter (1999)

Directed by Amos Cohen and Sherine Salama  

Stevan Arbutina, a Serb, is married to Georgia, a Croatian. They are forced to immigrate to Australia after the devastating civil war in Yugoslavia makes it impossible for them to find peace and security in their old country. This compelling film traces the family’s journey from Belgrade to Melbourne.

The Plight of Tibet and the Dalai Lama: Interviews with Tibetan Refugees (1999)

Directed by John B. Murray

This film consists of interviews with Tibetan refugees (predominantly Buddhists persecuted for their religion), including the current Dalai Lama, as well as those people who operate the services in India which assist the arriving refugees. They describe both their treatment at the hands of the country’s rulers as well as the general socio-economic climate brought about by the policies of the government of Tibet.

Children of Shatila (1998)

Directed by Mai Masri 

The Shatila Camp in Beirut has become home to more than 15,000 Palestinians and Lebanese who share a common experience of displacement, unemployment and poverty. This is the story of two Palestinian children born and raised in the Shatila Camp – Farah aged 11 and Issa aged 12. It is the intent of documentary filmmaker Mai Masri to present the children’s stories of the realities of life in Shatila through their own eyes and words, providing each child with a video camera.

Exile in Sarajevo (1997)

Directed by Tahir Cambis and Alma Sahbaz

This is a personal account of the siege of Sarajevo, from the viewpoint of Bosnian-Australian Tahir Cambis and Sarajevan Alma Sahbaz. Nirvan, a talented young dancer, dies after a shelling attack. Her family is forced to leave Sarajevo as refugees bound for America. Eight year old Amira’s illustrated diary is poignant testimony of the murder of family and friends. Both stories are set within the context of NATO bombing missions, UN Press Conferences and the liberation and reunification of parts of the city under Bosnian-Serb control.

Dreams and Silence (1991)

Directed by Omar Al Qattan 

It is the autumn of 1990 in Jordan. The Islamic movement has declared a Holy War against the West and the Gulf War is at its height. Haifa Samhouri is a middle-aged Palestinian refugee living in Jordan. Haifa talks of her life as a refugee.

Films

In Procedure (2003)

Jiska Rickels

Desperate to save his seriously ill daughter, Hassan had to leave his wife and children behind in Syria to seek asylum. The distance has become unbearable. As he waits helplessly to obtain his refugee status in The Netherlands, his daughter’s health continues to decline and the world seems to be collapsing around his family. Hassan becomes filled with anxiety and remorse. The only contact he can maintain with his loved ones is in short, often cut-off, phone conversations, mostly stressing the urgency of finding a solution. The only other local news he receives is in the alarming videos of his home town he can find online.

In Procedure begins where the news reports about refugees end. With rare candor and intimacy, it provides a close observation of the process for reuniting families in a time when bureaucratic structures cannot keep up with the urgent and deadly realities of war.

While Hassan waits for the outcome of his asylum procedure, his daughter Yomna’s morale continues to fade with the passing of time. His sense of helplessness is staggering, but so is his perseverance. Meanwhile, the situation in Syria keeps worsening. The survival of his family remains in the tied hands of well-meaning government officials.

Watch the trailer here

Beyond Borders (2003)

Directed by Martin Campbell

Beyond Borders tells of two people brought together by a shared passion for the world’s hot spots. Sarah encounters a renegade doctor, whose impassioned plea for help to support his relief efforts in war-torn Africa inspires her to embark upon a journey to the far corners of the world.

Asylum (2003)

Directed by Nigel Roffe-Barker

Fleeing persecution and torture in northern Iraq, three young Kurdish boys smuggle themselves into England where they register for asylum and try to establish new lives. However, their future is threatened when their genuine claims get bound up in red tape. One boy is detained, while the others evade capture by taking refuge in a local church, amid escalating media and police attention.

The Cage House (2002)

Directed by Angela Van Boxtel

This award-winning short film was inspired by the drawings of 6-year-old Shayan Badraie in Villawood Detention Centre.

More information

In This World (2002)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Based on true events and using refugees themselves as the actors, this story follows two young Afghan refugees on their journey to London.

Baran (2001)

Directed by Majid Majidi

Based in Tehran, Baran tells of Lateef, a 17-year-old Kurdish worker, who is irresistibly drawn to Rahmat, a young Afghan worker. The revelation of Rahmat’s secret changes both their lives.

Kandahar (2001)

Directed by Monsen Makhmalbaf

This feature film, shot in documentary-style, is about a woman refugee from Afghanistan who is now a reporter in Canada. The story follows her as she returns to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in order to save her sister.

A Time for Drunken Horses (2000)

Directed by Bahman Ghobadi

This film is about a Kurdish family who are struggling to survive after the death of their father. Living in squalor and poverty in a village on the Iran-Iraq border for Kurdish refugee families, they must face the harshest of conditions as they try to save their youngest brother.

Blackboards (2000)

Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

This movie tells of a group of Kurdish teachers who wander from village to village in the remote Iranian Kurdistan region during the Iran-Iraq war in search of students. They carry large blackboards on their backs, sometimes using them as shelter, camouflage and as shields for gunfire.

Eternity and a Day (1998)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos 

A famous author, reaching the end of his life, encounters a young Albanian refugee boy who is one of the thousands of ‘illegal immigrants’ from Eastern Europe coming into Greece. Alexandre begins a quest to return the boy home, and when that proves impossible, attempts to give the young orphan the security and opportunities unavailable to him on the streets.

El Norte (1983)

Directed by Gregory Nava

This film tells the story of Mayan Indigenous youths in the 1980s who are tired of being labelled “brazos fuertes” (manual labourers). In an effort to improve their life, they are discovered by the Guatemalan army. After the army destroys their village and family, they are forced to flee Guatemala due to ethnic and political persecution.