A story of friendship

The Cyprus premier of Gabriele Del Grande’s documentary, ‘On the Bride’s side’ tomorrow evening, highlights the island’s proximity to the ever-increasing refugee problem, and in the director’s words calls on all of us to “show solidarity with people coming from the other shore of the sea overturned by war”.

Screened within the framework of the European Year for Development 2015, and the series of ‘Screening the World’ Documentary Projections the programme has been organising for the past month, the documentary depicts the story of a Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist, who meet five Palestinians and Syrians in Milan, who entered Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa after fleeing the war in Syria.

“They decide to help them complete their journey to Sweden – and hopefully avoid getting themselves arrested as traffickers – by faking a wedding. With a Palestinian friend dressed up as the bride and a dozen or so Italian and Syrian friends as wedding guests, they cross halfway over Europe on a four-day journey of three thousand kilometres. This emotionally charged journey not only brings out the stories and hopes and dreams of the five Palestinians and Syrians and their rather special traffickers, but also reveals an unknown side of Europe – a transnational, supportive and irreverent Europe that ridicules the laws and restrictions of the Fortress in a kind of masquerade, which is non other than the direct filming of something that really took place on the road from Milan to Stockholm from the 14th to the 18th of November 2013,” describes the synopsis.

Present for the premiere, Del Grande affirms his delight to present his movie on the island ”since the island has become one of the hot spots of European borders, together with Greece, all the Balkans, Italy, Malta and Spain”.

“Politicians sitting in the European Parliament or in the National Governments in Central and Northern European Countries don’t really have an idea of what consequences are being generated by their decision of migration policies. It is only here along the borders where we see the sad truth: thousands of innocent people dying day after day on the smuggling routes… the only open door left by our border policies. The day Brussels will change its policy and open humanitarian legal ways to make these people travel safely and legally, the tragedy will come to an end. Meanwhile, we have to struggle as civil society and single citizens and show solidarity with people coming from the other shore of the sea overturned by the war,” says Del Grande.

Del Grande is quick to clarify that the documentary is not solely about refugees, however. “This is a documentary about a story of Mediterranean friendship. And that’s how it really happened. Me and some Syrian and Palestinian close friends of mine met one day in Milan, by chance, with five Syrians and Palestinians who had just arrived in Italy by boat and were heading north, towards Sweden. Having a direct experience of the Syrian war, as I was there five times as a journalist, we decided to help them and we set up a plan to avoid being arrested as smugglers,” reveals Del Grande.

To this end, there are concrete, hands-on messages to be conveyed through the outcome of this experience. “This is a real story of real solidarity and friendship. And it is the story on another possible Mediterranean. We can be together, dream together, fight together and do all we can to stop the ongoing tragedy of deaths in our seas,” states Del Grande.

“You know, if I’m still alive, it is because Syrians helped me when I was a stranger in Syria, in the midst of the war, covering the conflict as a journalist. Now when it came my turn, I couldn’t turn my head on the other side. I was in Milan and I was meeting Syrian friends fleeing the war. We hosted some of them in my house, we helped them catch the right train or bus to avoid border controls… and finally – together with the other two directors of this film, Antonio Augugliaro and Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry – we decided we had to do more: disobey openly and publicly European immigration laws and film it. That’s how we ended up disguising as a fake wedding procession!” he adds.

Looking ahead, Del Grande slams the EU’s response to the refugee problem and proposes two solutions. “The increase in the number of arrivals in Europe is a direct consequence of the humanitarian disaster caused in Syria by the war. Sincerely I found disgusting the way we pretend nothing is happening on the other side of the sea. EU looks at refugees as a problem, as uninvited, an undesired people coming in our courtyard… There two solutions. In the long term, the only solution is to stop the Syrian war. Nobody of these people ever dreamed about Europe… Nobody! They were forced to leave their beloved homeland after 300 thousand people were killed, millions injured and 11 million displaced… Stop the war and they all will go back home to rebuild the country. The international community has a huge responsibility since they are arming both the regime and the opposition forces on the ground. The war will never end in this way. Instead, we need a political solution, a truce, the end of the regime, a transition to democracy and a joint effort against Isil. Meanwhile, we need a solution for the millions of refugees. This is not only Europe’s burden. All the international community has to deal with that. How? Give all the Syrians the right to move freely wherever they want in the world. And let them help themselves. Job market worldwide needs millions in labour in countries like Europe or the Us, Gulf Arab countries, Australia… Instead what we assist in Europe is an irrational and expansive policy. First we prevent people to travel legally, pushing them in the hands of smugglers. Then we forbid them to work for years waiting to obtain the right residence permit to be hired. We really need a Copernican revolution in the system.”

For more information about screenings visit www.cyindep.org

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London