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Oscar-nominated short documentary '4.1 Miles' personalizes the refugee crisis

A scene from the short documentary
A scene from the short documentary "4.1 Miles."
Daphne Matziaraki

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Just 4.1 miles of water separate Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos. Between 2015 and 2016, 600,000 migrants made the treacherous crossing.

Men, women and children fleeing conflict in their home countries pack onto inflatable rafts and small boats headed for Greece. Often the boats break down or capsize, which is where the Greek Coast Guard comes in.

The efforts of one captain, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, and his crew to save as many lives as possible are the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short film “4.1 miles."

The film was directed by Daphne Matziaraki. She made the documentary as her thesis film while she was a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. 

Matziaraki followed Captain Papadopoulos and his crew for three weeks, but the rescues shown in the film all took place over the course of one day: October 28, 2015.

Interview highlights:

On her first encounter with the refugee crisis on the island of Lesbos:

The first day that I arrived I decided that I was not going to take my camera and I was going to go to the eastern side of the island, which is the side that is close to Turkey, where the boats are arriving from. It's about an hour-and-a-half drive and it's a winding road and ... as soon as I arrived, I saw people coming up on the road, alone, wrapped in plastic blankets. Really old people. It was cold, it was freezing. I remember it so well — the expression that these people had in their eyes is something that I will never ever ever forget ... you could really tell that there was something, so much trauma in their eyes that it shocked me so much. I had just driven for two hours, and they were just walking that same road after having fled war and having done this deadly journey.

So that was the first shock. Then I arrived on the beach and suddenly somebody opens the door of my car and pushes in a very old woman. She had hypothermia and she was blue. She couldn't talk, she was unconscious. And they pushed her into my car and told me, "Take her to the hospital." I've never been so scared, so shocked. I was trying to push the clutch in my car and my leg was shaking. I had to drive this woman two hours to get to the hospital.

On the opening scene of the film, when a crew member on the boat handed her a baby and told her to put her camera down:

I decided before I went there that my role as a filmmaker was to tell this story as accurately, as realistically as I could. I didn't know how to do CPR, I didn't know how to help, so my best shot was to stay out of the crew's way and to film this. Being on the boat, the reality was completely different, however. The boat is tiny. The crew members are not trained to do this, they are not even trained to give CPR. Their job involved routine border patrol around the peaceful waters of Greece, and they don't even have the basic instruments in their boats to deal with such an emergency.

I'm saying this because when they were called out on a rescue and then they found a boat packed with families and babies, the crew and the captain were as panicked as the people on this boat. The scene is completely frantic, chaotic. Everyone is shocked and in complete fear, and so was I. So when I'm asked to hold the baby, there is no second thought in my head [of], Oh no, actually I'm going to film now. I did what I was asked to, and there was no second thought. And that's because this boat and this situation is really, realistically, the fine line between life and death.

On what she hopes viewers take away from the film:

The film is about the refugee crisis, of course ... But for me, it's also about something bigger. It is about life and death and it is about how we are all the same in this. So when these people are forced to live or die this way, because they really don't have another option, it's our responsibility— for us that are in a safe place and have other choices — to be able to have an understanding of how similar we are. And maybe not to be so afraid of this "other."

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