Welcome to Germany, foreigner! We like to call you “Ausländer”, because we find it very important to stress that you are from a country that is not ours. Our politicians create words like „Armutszuwanderung“ (poverty migration) to underline that you might be poor and needy, expecting Germany to help you. If you’re from Bulgaria or Romania, we mock your migration with expressions like „Sozialtourismus“ (social tourism) to make the nation aware that you only come here to profit from our social system. If your skin is black, we will ask you where you are really from, no matter if you were born here or if you are a war refugee. And, oh yeah, black man, be prepared for a large scale police operation on the subway if they find you without a ticket. You might be late for your meeting with the Senate.
German is a strange language when it comes to immigration policy, so strange that some words are better left untranslated. The “Aufenthaltsgenehmigung” (used as “Aufenthalt” in an English conversation by an African refugee) is good example of those legal expressions that are key to understanding how this country frames and regards people who it considers “other” and foreign. Many of them came to Germany for reasons that the legal representatives of this country are not in the least interested in. Take Brian from Cameroon – he worked on a banana plantation in Cameroon and considers himself a fighter. He suffers from the common misconception that once you make it from Africa to Germany, you are already a “made man”. The opposite is true, he says, and smiles without a sign of self-pity, which is also how the entire film Land in Sicht looks at the phenomenon of seeking asylum in Germany. It is critical and nuanced without ignoring agency.
We are in Belzig, a small town an hour Southwest of Berlin, where filmmakers Judith Keil and Antje Kruska have met and accompanied three men stranded at the “Asylbewerberheim” (home for asylum seekers) for different reasons. Now, there are many ways in which to put these experiences into a documentary film and Keil and Kruska decided on a mix of being embedded filmmakers and staging the journey of their protagonists. With their use of music and their filmic approach (using reverse shots in discussions and putting together a string of scenes for the flow of the narration), they recede from a type of social report and move towards exposing a rather indistinct protagonist: Germany.
“You must work with me” is one of the first things we hear from social worker Rose Dittfurth who is our constant companion throughout the film. We sometimes hear her talk to the grown-up men like children, which is partly due to language restrictions and partly due to the authority she is asked to exert upon the refugees. Through her work and the work of others we get revealing insights into the “deutsche Seele” (soul of Germany) and the difficulty of combining a thorough understanding of the global human rights situation with the bureaucratic requirements of a country that loves its rules. “Sozialarbeiterin”, “Arbeitsvermittlungsanstalt”, “Integrationsbemühungen”!
When Abdul, a former sheikh and soldier from Yemen is asked to talk about his general application for seeking work, he is told that he can only check five boxes that describe his strengths best and not 20 as he did. It turns out that he hadn’t done it himself because he was unable to understand the suggested German words and as the employee reads them out aloud you understand why. “May God help me,” Abdul says in Arabic. When he comes back with a translator, he is lectured that “flexibility” will certainly not be one of his strengths since he mentioned that he was wounded as a soldier and had a number of operations on his body. What’s in sight for him after the evaluation of his qualities is a job a security guard.
That’s more than Brian can expect whose legal status is more precarious and who, in the course of the film, receives his letter for “Abschiebung” (deportation). We call this “Vollstreckung der Ausreisepflicht” – an execution of your duty to leave the country. In a discussion with his friend, Brian considers marrying a German woman for the permit but rejects that idea at the same time since he wants to put his personal freedom above everything else. The question the film raises is what idea of freedom he is talking about in the face of systems like these.
In a subtle way, Land in Sicht interweaves moments of everyday racism into its story when, for example, Farid, who had to leave his wife in Iran, starts his first job as a fitness trainer and faces a group of women who look at him with a mix of bewilderment and disbelief. “They are afraid of you,” his German colleague says. In another scene, Farid cooks for the social worker Rose and another German man who claims he isn’t a racist but feels personally offended by the strange and exotic smells that come out of Farid’s kitchen. The entire situation in which Farid is patronised by his guests who complain about the amount and the zest of his food is a small lesson in intercultural encounters in itself.
The topics of migration, integration, and asylum seekers have recently been featured quite prominently in German documentaries. Films like Fremd (Foreign) by Miriam Fassbender, Werden Sie Deutscher by Britt Beyer, and Erntehelfer by Moritz Siebert give you very different and insightful looks at people who are tripping over many stones on their way to “Einbürgerung” (citizenship). Land in Sicht is not only a very well-made film in cinematic terms, it is also a very sensitive exploration into the lives of three foreigners and their hopes and dreams as they try to be part of the German society. They chose a country that still hasn’t found an acceptable way of dealing with asylum seekers, refugees, or the fact that people leave their countries for diverse reasons. It is important to get to know some of these people and maybe question the random privilege you are given by birth, or by the colour of your skin.
Land in Sicht, Germany 2013, 93 min.
directors: Judith Keil/ Antje Kruska, with: Abdul, Brian, Farid, Rose, cinematography: Marcus Winterbauer, Katharina Bühler, Dietmar Ratsch, Eugen Schlegel, Anne Misselwitz, Robert Nickolaus, languages: German, Arabic, English, Persian, French, distribution: Basis Film Verleih Berlin
Berlin screenings: Hackesche Höfe (23.-30.01.; premiere with guests: 23.01.), acud (23.-29.01.), Sputnik (23.-29.01.; screening with guests: 26.01 ), Filmrauschpalast (23.01.-05.02.), b-ware ladenkino (23.-29.01.), Fsk (from 02.03. on)