Dir. Abou Bakar Sidibe, Mortitz Sibert, Estephan Wagner
A few days before viewing Those Who Jump (Les Sauteurs), one hundred African migrants managed to climb over the fence on the Spanish-Moroccan border at Melilla. When covered in the European and American press, such acts, though illegal, are continually and consistently described as ‘breaking into’ and ‘storming the enclave’ Melilla. This reductive language has framed the current refugee and migratory crises, as those attempting to escape economic deprivation and war zones are pathologised for attempting to reach the Europe that is inextricably linked to the economic, military and colonial intervention. The situation is simplified into the often racist narrative of ‘them’ attempting to come and take from ‘us’. In their collaboration with Abou Bakar Sidibe, a Malian migrant whose vantage the documentary takes, Danish directors Moritz Sibert and Estephan Wagner offer a humanising perspective into those attempting to scale the walls of fortress Europe.
From a uncomfortable nights sleep amongst the boulders and brush of the hinterlands to the perilous dash to the border fences, director and subject Sidibe documents the daily life of the migrant community encamped on Mt. Gurugu. Having spent fifteen months at the border, Abou captures the banal, the humour, the dreams, the ingenuity and the desperation of those in the camp. Where Sidibe’s early filming feels a little listless and merely observatory as he learns his craft, soon a broad, diverse picture of the community builds. We come to see how the camp and the ‘jumps’ are meticulously organised, how playful ‘banter’ about exotic Europe emerge alongside serious questions about the consequences of colonialism, the stratifying of refugee via ethnic and national lines (which continues to disadvantage sub-Saharan Africans) and the hardship of immigrant-life once over the fences. As cameraman, Sidibe plays several roles that often mirror the shifting moods within the camp- at one point he acts as sports reporter for a light-hearted football match between the make-shift Malian and Sierra Leonian teams, and at the other extreme, a tense confessional for a ‘traitor’ sent into exile. Sidibe is not merely a chronicler but also demonstrates artistic and philosophical sensibilities. “When I film, I feel I exist” he contemplates in the narration, posing the question of how and to whom Sidibe’s experience will be communicated, understood and it’s importance to both subject and audience.
Sibert and Wagner contrast Sidibe’s rough, hand-held camerawork with the surveillance footage from the SIVE (Integrated System of External Vigilance). A striking juxtaposition, the European ‘gaze’ is metaphorically realised in the monochrome, thermal imaging and mechanistic movements of the security cameras. The view reduce the men we otherwise see cooking, debating, building equipment, surviving to indistinct dots and the scrambling masses on the fences. These are the images that ‘we’ (broadly speaking as Europeans and Westerners) are used to seeing, are rooted firmly in the reactionary imagination and have been used by European political leaders to militarise our borders, though more importantly, close our capacity for understanding. Conversely, Sidibe’s intimate footage fills out and disrupts these impersonal images, drawing us nearer to the men’s endeavours and joining in their final exaltation when they reach the other side.
Those Who Jump will join a number of documentaries this year (Fire at Sea, After Spring, The Land Between) that portray different perspectives on the migrant and refugee experience in war zones and at the borders. While the plight of migrants on the Spanish-Moroccan border predate the current crisis and, as the film raises, no migrant or refugee group is homogenous, Those Who Jump still offers a necessary insight into the physical and emotional endurance of those attempting to cross perilous borders.Yet it also seeks to challenge how these communities are framed and perceived from fortress Europe, to expose how myopic this view is of the people directly involved in and affected by ongoing crises.