Katja Riemann: Comment on flight, migration & storytelling

In her directorial debut ...AND HERE WE ARE! actress Katja Riemann accompanies young refugees who learn to tell their world in pictures in a film training programme. In this commentary, she tells us what is particularly close to her heart when it comes to flight, migration and the role of storytelling.

In the summer of 2020, I was researching the situation of the refugees living in the Vial refugee camp on Chios, the Moria camp on Lesbos and on the streets of Athens, when I became aware of the NGO ReFOCUS Media Labs, which was founded in 2018 as a film school to teach young refugees in Moria about filmmaking. I returned in November to make a documentary about them.

When we think about refugee camps, images of seemingly endless rows of white UNHCR or Red Cross tents photographed by drones from the air quickly come to mind. This perspective alone is condescending and almost hegemonic. We are looking down at a condition, often referred to as ‘misery’, accompanied by commentary in which numbers are central. The people living there are lumped together as ‘refugees’, a word enshrined in the Geneva Convention of 1954. I find the German word for refugee – Flüchtling – bizarre due to the diminutive ‘-ling’ at the end, as in butterfly – Schmetterling – or foundling – Findling. Lumping people together strips them of even their nationality. Whether they come from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo or Burundi, as soon as they set foot in the area, they became refugees – the definition of the people in these parallel cities. 


I am interested in breaking this definition, the patterns, the ignorant prejudices and looking directly at the situation without bias, in order to push aside the solution-oriented way of looking at things and to actually see, to learn and find out about the life that takes place there. It is only when we know something that we can perhaps take action. Or surrender to our perplexity. 

For me, telling stories about humanitarian issues means putting what is concrete in the foreground, because that’s something you can even understand if you've never been to a camp, because the stories provide an idea of it, because it changes your perspective and doesn’t skew the playing field from the start.


As filmmakers, we are committed to storytelling, not preaching. If someone in our audience has a feeling or a thought that they haven’t felt or thought before, then that is, in my opinion, the first step toward gaining knowledge, which in a best-case scenario can even lead them to take action.


Katja Riemann, July 2021.

Films on flight & migration at the HRFFB 2021