Fernand Melgar took your questions live on Tuesday, July 2, 2013, but you can catch the recap of the chat below. Learn more about the making of Special Flight.
POV: Welcome to POV’s live chat with Filmmaker Fernand Melgar from Special Flight. We’ll get started 11 AM ET.
Fernand Melgar: Thank you so much to having me. I look forward to receiving your questions.
POV: Welcome, Fernand, thank you for joining us.
POV: What was it like filmmaking inside of the immigration detention center? How did you earn the trust of the detainees and staff?
Fernand Melgar: It was very difficult. Nobody ever entered a detention center before in Europe with a film crew. First of all, we had to negotiate with the authorities. It was a long and hard process, and then the authorities finally accepted us.
Fernand Melgar: Before filming, we spent six months inside the detention camp to gain the confidence of the detainees and the staff. Finally, almost all of them accepted to participate in the film. For the detainees, they wanted to show the reality to the Swiss citizen who voted for this law. For the staff, they were proud of their job and wanted to show that.
POV: What has the reaction been from Swiss viewers? How do you hope this story might influence the attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers in Switzerland?
Fernand Melgar: A lot of people were shocked after the viewing. They couldn’t imagine that this could happen in Geneva, the capital of human rights. The extreme right wing tried to censor the film. They are very powerful in Switzerland. They have lot of financial support from the Swiss bankers. It was a considerable fight; it felt like David against Goliath.
Fernand Melgar: But we won! The film was one of the successes of the year in the box office!
Fernand Melgar: Recently, we had a recent vote. You have to know that we are a direct democracy. It means that the Swiss citizens have to vote for everything, and sometimes for the worse.
Fernand Melgar: Recently, a large majority of Swiss citizens voted to make the asylum law even harder. Now the Swiss authorities will open more detention centers. They cancelled the possibility to ask for asylum in a Swiss embassy. Swiss citizens forgot that their country invented the Red Cross and the international refugee convention called Geneva Convention.
POV: From viewer Erik Lang via POV’s Facebook page: “Looking forward to seeing the film. I’m fairly certain that U.S. authorities would not allow filming inside its immigration detention centers. I believe most are owned and run by private for profit companies. Any thoughts about that?”
Fernand Melgar: Thanks, Erik. You are right. Here it is not yet the case, but it going to change and it will eventually be privatized. But we think that with the first amendment of your constitution you should be allowed to do the same.
POV: Another comment from viewer Itayi Chinhamo-Wilson via POV’s Facebook page: “As an African immigrant, my heart broke for these men. I know what dreams and hopes they carry in their hearts. My immigration journey had few bumps in the road and I now see what a blessing that was. I am truly grateful for my American citizenship and the opportunities it affords me. Excellent film!!”
Fernand Melgar: Thank you so much! We received a lot of testimony after the film from migrants, and not only African who say the same things.
POV: What’s happened to the detainees since the film ended production?
Fernand Melgar: One year after their expulsion we went to see them. The situation for all of them was very bad. You can watch on POV’s website the portraits that we made of the detainees after their expulsion.
POV: Was it difficult to track down and keep in touch with people after they’d be deported?
Fernand Melgar: It is so hard. Often, they arrive in their country without their luggage. One former detainee ended up being put in jail and tortured because he asked for asylum in Switzerland. Another became mentally ill because he was away from his four children who stayed in Switzerland. The ragga singer was rejected by his family because he could not give them any more money. In fact, all of them tried to come back in Switzerland. But the way back here is very dangerous and expensive.
POV: What are you working on now? What new projects do you have going on?
Fernand Melgar: I just finished filming during six months of the life of a homeless shelter in my hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland. Most of them are European migrants who flew the economic crisis.
POV: That sounds exciting, Fernand!
POV: We have time for one more question: What are the major takeaways you’d like an American audience to get from watching Special Flight?
Fernand Melgar: Migration is a major issue of the 21st century. Nowadays, our governments try to criminalize migrants. One century ago, Switzerland was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and many people had to leave the country for economic reasons. Now, like the US, we are one of the richest countries of the world. We must think globally and not close our borders to those who are in need today. We don’t know what the future will be for our children.
POV: We are extremely grateful to have you, Fernand. Thank you for joining us today. Our live chat will be ending now. Is there anything else you want to say to our viewers?
Fernand Melgar: We really would like to thank POV for the opportunity of bringing this film to American citizen. We hope that it will help to open minds and create positive debates.
POV: Thank you for your insightful answers today Fernand. We’re excited that Special Flight will be available for full streaming online starting today until July 31, 2013 on the POV website.
POV: Learn more about the plight of asylum seekers by exploring an interactive map tracking the origins and destinations of asylum seekers across the world at http://www.pbs.org/pov/specialflight/interactive-map-asylum-seekers/.
POV: If we didn’t get a chance to ask your question or post your comment, the conversation continues on POV’s Facebook page at facebook.com/povdocs and POV’s companion site for Special Flight at http://www.pbs.org/pov/specialflight/.
POV: Also on the companion site, watch excerpts from “The World Is Like That,” filmmaker Fernand Melgar’s short documentary which follows up with some of the detainees in Special Flight.