In the 1942 classic film Casablanca, Ilsa Lund and her husband seek refuge in America after escaping the Nazis into North Africa. Now families from Syria, Sudan, Uganda, and many other places also take flight and seek refuge. However, their journey doesn’t begin in Casablanca, nor does it end in safety on a plane. Their journeys are terrifying, dangerous, deadly and real. They deserve to have their stories shared...
This short silent film responds to the Moss Arts Center theme of FLIGHT AND REFUGE by connecting today’s global refugee crisis to film imagery from the twentieth century and before. Today’s global refugee crisis has more than doubled in scale just in the last ten years—around 80 million people are displaced around the world (UNHCR).
In Casablanca we see two Europeans with political ties fleeing their homeland. With the help of Rick Blaine they are successfully able to find passage to America. At its face value, it is a love story. The characters grow and change; they learn from their experiences. However, if you look behind the grey and black globe, the opening credits, you see something surprising. You see a horde of women marching, carrying their children on their shoulders. Horse-drawn carts filled with whatever could be salvaged or repurposed for a new life. Steamboats chugging across the water, thousands below decks in a seemingly windowless, lifeless ship. These are the people who truly made Casablanca. The thousands of faces in a crowd, their stories untold, and their destinations unknown. Even their successes and failures areunaccounted for. Unlike Ilsa, we never know if they step on that plane.
In this film we see Ilsa juxtaposed against refugees fleeing conflicts from as late as the 1950’s to as recently as 2017. Instead of a polished, romantic journey we see a terrifying march into the unknown, one that continues to berepeated throughout history. Both the characters and their real-life counterparts seek to flee their homelands--Ilsa via airplane under cover of night, her counterparts in the middle of the day, bags packed in a rush, without even enough time to glance back at the lives they once knew. Instead of flying, they walk. They walk through refugee camps, through towns and bureaucracy alike. Then they board whatever vessels can be procured, oftentimes illegal. Usually inhumane and uncomfortable. We see people flee Fidel Castro for Florida in the 1950’s. Then we see Asians
expelled from Uganda. People in South Sudan, Syria, and elsewhere also faced refugee crises in the past fifty years. Despite this being a common occurrence, their experiences are rarely televised past background videos.
Unlike Ilsa and her rebel leader husband, these refugees aren’t being personally targeted by a tangible force. Ephemeral struggles such as poverty, destruction, bloodshed, and genocide are what force them out of their homes. They are casualties of war. Often victims of chance and circumstance. Who had no interest in the wars that stripped them of their daily lives and communities. Many of these are families, or young children.
In our short film, we see those same background characters, now finally in the foreground in stunning color, unobscured by the romance of Ilsa and Blane. We get at the heart of the story. At the millions who have lost their homes, and their lives, in conflicts far out of their control. Not only has this been true in the past, but still holds true even in these unprecedented times.This film is a call to action.
Refugee Studies at Virginia Tech
Department of Religion and Culture