What part does realism play in City Plaza Hotel?
The idea for the film was born from a concern for the present-day world and the reality that we all face. We opted for a documentary style for the majority of the film and we used fiction as a cinematographic narration that allowed us to communicate what we felt. The dream (or the nightmare, depending on how the viewer perceives it) emerged from feelings and conversations we had with the refugees during our month of shooting. When we arrived at the “City Plaza Hotel”, we started by closely observing the lives of the inhabitants. Then, we recreated certain situations and filmed the pure improvisations that resulted. We didn’t want to show the horror and danger of the journey to Europe, we see that everyday in the news. But those stories exist permanently off-camera. We were interested in the human dimension. We wanted to show that first and foremost, these refugees were people with dreams, hopes, and fears… Before becoming “migrants”, they had their own lives and their own ideas about the world. Zhenos is Afghan but she could have been any other nationality. Through her, we wanted to tell the story of these refugees.
Why did you want to address the situation of these refugees?
We are Chilean (Violeta) and German-Argentinian (Anna-Paula). We have had the chance to travel a lot for our studies and our work. People close to us suffered forced migration due to the Latin American dictatorships. This subject touches us on a very intimate level. When we decided to make the film, it was mid-August in Paris. Thousands of refugees were dying in the middle of the Mediterranean and were all over the front pages of the newspapers. We found that this subject was reported in an anxiety-producing way that made it impossible to feel empathy for the families. They spoke of “peril”, of “diseases” that would arrive in Europe. It seemed surrealistic to us. It made us think of zombies: terror spread by the media that showed a “wave of refugees”, like an invasion. It was so far from the truth, so absurd. We wondered how we could make a film that would give these refugees a face and humanize them. Borders are a political construct, created by those in power. These borders become more and more important and powerful to prevent migrants from poor countries from entering its space. It seems insane that people fleeing a war cannot find refuge. To be born in a country at war shouldn’t condemn them to stay in those countries, especially when they are willing to do anything, even die, in search of a better future. Several members of associations spoke to us of the City Plaza Hotel. A self-managed squat for migrants in Athens, a collective organization, giving refugees a place to live and helping them to avoid the violence of the camps. A place of hope. But a place that risked being evacuated by the police at any moment, and where families of 4-7 people cram into the same room. The hotel is “fully booked”, so you have to perform collective duties to be allowed to stay. After the traumatizing exodus, people become crazy from the anxiety and uncertainty (of having to leave again). Quite often, the parents don’t speak the Western language and it’s the children that translate everything. At the City Plaza Hotel, everything was intense, surviving in the present moment, because there is no future in Greece. All the refugees want is to work, to have a normal life and to provide an education for their children. One one hand, we were pleased to see a human organization like the City Plaza Hotel, but very disappointed by European policies.
What interested you in Zhenos’ character?
We are both female directors: to shoot the portrait of a young woman seemed natural to us. We thought about how to represent women, to show their strength and to work towards having their voices heard. Zhenos lived in the mountains of Afghanistan. Her family had to flee because the Taliban wanted to force her to marry. At 12 years old, she began her adolescence in a new country, uncertain of her future. For refugees, Greece is only a stop along the path, a limbo before arriving in a new country to start a new life. Today, Greece doesn’t allow refugees to start a new life there. Zhenos has dreams like all young girls, she loves music and talking to her friends. She would like to study to become a math teacher. Her arrival in Greece was only a stop along the path before being able to start a new life and start thinking about building a future. Today, she lives alone in Bremen, where she goes to school. She speaks German very well. Zhenos doesn’t know when she’ll be able to see her family again. We would like her whole family to come and live with her in Bremen. The family has already spent two years in Greece without being able to work, living with exasperating uncertainty as they apply for a precarious new visa every 6 months without ever knowing if they’ll be turned down and sent back to Afghanistan. Like we said, this country is a transitory place, the entire system is set up to keep them from staying. Zhenos’ case is a typical one. There are lots of young people like Zhenos elsewhere, waiting to start a new life.
Why didn’t you want to have a deeper look at the daily life of the family unit?
For the short film format, we prefered to concentrate on one character. To make a film about the “family unit” would have spoken of a much broader problem, less internal, and would have risked losing the intimacy, the deeper, more sensorial contact with the main character. We also wanted to create a true connection with Zhenos. We didn’t want to show her as a victim, but as a strong girl who is becoming a teenager, with her intimate world, her nightmares, her desires to be alone and leave that hotel room, to film her in her oppressing limbo that nonetheless allows her to “take a breather” before continuing on her path.
Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
The short film is a short story, a feature-length film is a novel, and we wanted to tell a short story. The short format is more dynamic, more synthetic. In 14 minutes, the idea has to remain clear and precise all while remaining an object of beauty, of feeling and of emotion. We wanted to try to provide a key to understanding the world through the eyes of a young girl. Art can give us a more human perception of life and connect us to love. We hope that the film gives a more human, intimate vision of migrants. We would like to produce ideas that bring change and educate people without reproducing reactionary systems, even if we are aware that we live in a society where it is very difficult to escape its paradigms. Even more, we try to keep a critical mind and to always question our own ideas. It’s one of the reasons why co-directing this film was so extraordinary, putting our heads together to create dialogs and to help each other through the difficult moments. And, once we silence the ego, we can go so much further together than if we were alone.