Last week we called wraps on a film project, after six grueling months of production. Aside from all the things mentioned in the previous post, this film occupied my life in the last few months, and it gives me immense satisfaction to say that we are at the end.
‘ FC Chechnya’ began as a short video profile of a couple of Chechen refugees whom I met in Vienna while writing this story for an Indian periodical. I talked about this to my friend Maria Trieb, and we thought it would be a good idea to film some of these interviews, maybe for online broadcast. What began out of that conversation was a 15 minute series of interviews on the asylum procedure in Europe, and the impact of it on one of the biggest refugee communities here, and is now a 70 minute feature-documentary.
Within a few weeks of shooting, it became clear to us that it would simply not be possible to explore the range of issues that bedevil asylum in Europe. This was not least because our interview partners were very reluctant to share details about their life and struggle for asylum in front of the camera, something which they had been very candid about earlier during conversations. This was understandable: any information that would not corroborate with the version that they had told the asylum authorities could jeopardize their asylum bid.
However, their greatest fear was that members of their family still living in Chechnya would be targeted if these interviews were seen by the Chechen government. Many also feared the impact such interviews would have on their lives here. The Chechen diaspora in Vienna is quite divided, and terrified after Umar Israilov, a Chechen dissident, was shot dead in Vienna a couple of years ago, allegedly by agents of the Chechen government.
It is at this stage that we heard about a group of young asylum seekers who had set up a football club in Carinthia. This immediately caught our attention since Carinthia is not known for its openness to immigrants and refugees. The late Joerg Haider, a former governor of Carinthia, had in his tenure initiated a campaign for a Chechen free Carinthia and in 2008 deported three families, without a clear legal basis.
So we drove down to Klagenfurt to find out more. On our many trips down their we were able to connect with youngsters who had incredible stories, and incredible positivity in the face of dire circumstances. They played their football with a passion, it seemed almost to reclaim some sense of self-hood that the war in Chechnya and the overdrawn, emotionally exhausting asylum procedure had denied them. Their families were hospitable, and seemed to open up their lives in front of us almost immediately. Football provided a ready peg to their life-stories, although they were still reluctant to speak in front of the camera.
This time the bigger problem was luck. The first three times the shoot in Klagenfurt ended in disaster. Malfunctioning equipment, absent interviewees and crew breakdowns meant doom for our moneyless production and crew.
Other problems were more basic. Most of our interview partners spoke Russian and German, both languages that I am not fluent in (I am barely comfortable in German, and have no idea about Russian). Here the production owes a big thanks to Xenia Penko, who made this problem seem irrelevant. Xenia told us when to laugh, and when to eat and when to remain silent in the awkward social situations that we often found ourselves in.
And then there was life. I had to give up a job offer in Delhi, where I had been wanting to move for the past year. Others in the crew juggled jobs, and some gave up other (better paying) projects to work on this film.
But somehow, the right people came together at the right time. My friend Poldi Koegler was able to find us some funding to (literally) keep us alive. The indefatigable Maria Trieb was always on top of the situation when it came to equipment and making sure that we had a post-production schedule that allowed us some flexibility. And Deepti Kakkar, who was so instrumental in organization during our Vienna shoots, came back from India last month to support us in the last stages of post production.
So here we are, to announce the screening of our film at the This Human World Human Rights Film Festival in Vienna. The film premieres on World Human Rights Day, 10th December, and the screening at the TopKino in Vienna would be followed by a panel discussion with top UN and EU asylum experts, as well the members of team FC Chechnya.
So if you are in Vienna, we would be very happy to have you at the premiere of the film. We would try and bring the film to as many screens as possible, although we would still need to figure out how.
Here is the trailer:
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