by SÉRGIO TRÉFAUT | 2011, 75’, Fiction | prod: Sérgio Tréfaut
With Maria de Medeiros,
João Pedro Bénard,
Pedro Pacheco, José Wallenstein
Script, directing and production Sérgio Tréfaut
Director of photography Edgar Moura
Sound Olivier Blanc
Line producer Filipe Verde
Assistants director Bruno Cabral, Maria João Matos Silva
Editing Sérgio Tréfaut, Gonçalo Soares, Pedro Marques, Mariana Gaivão
Costum and design Ana Direito
Make-Up and hair Sano de Perpessac
Financing ICA - Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual, RTP - Rádiotelevisão Portuguesa, Câmara Municipal de Serpa, Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian
Journey to Portugal is a political film that seeks to foster debate on the workings of the police and civil society.
In Portugal, as in the whole of the European Union, the number of people subjected to immediate or almost immediate expulsion in airports is striking. (see table below) Every year, the number goes unnoticed because the thousands of stories behind each of the figures remain untold. The way things stand today, what does it matter how many are expelled at airports? The images of African corpses in the seas around fortress Europe have become so commonplace that the daily interrogations and expulsions appear to be a minor matter. Nevertheless, thanks to our indifference, everyday thousands of individuals are interrogated straight off the aeroplane, in Europe. Hundreds are sent back to their country of origin. They are not criminals, they are not traffickers; most have their papers in order and valid entrance visas. These are people who have paid their airfare, a sum that often represents several months salary, yet are sometimes treated with hostility.
The aim of the police interrogations is to get these travellers, armed with their tourist visas, to admit they have come to the country with the idea of finding work in mind. In Portugal, for instance, it was for many years common practice to throw out lines such as: “you know there’s a new law in force that means a foreigner like you can work here now. Would that interest you at all?” The interrogator would pose almost as a friend or counsellor. Innocent Angolans and Brazilians, who didn’t think to strongly deny any possible interest in working in Europe, were immediately put on a return flight with the instruction that they would first have to get a work visa back home. More often than not, there was not even any need for lengthy interrogations or false confessions. Police prejudice or presumption of intent was enough. Little did it matter that their families were waiting at the airport for them. Little did it matter that they had valid tourist visas. Little did it matter that they had worked for years to save enough money for the trip.
Journey to Portugal throws light on a tiny tip of the iceberg: the fact that these everyday police practices are consigned to the silence of statistics. There is a total lack of transparency regarding police procedures in very many situations. In Portugal, civil society has no way of knowing what really happens in the majority of cases the police handle. Lawyers, Immigrant Protection Associations and journalists are forbidden access to police controlled areas in Portuguese airports (with few exceptions). In other EU countries, like France, this police impunity no longer exists. The regular presence of associations at interrogations is authorised and abuses do not go unreported.
The film Journey to Portugal has deliberately chosen to tell a story that is not particularly serious – a drop in the ocean compared to the drama of people with far more difficult lives, and for whom the experience of interrogation and expulsion is much more traumatic. Nor does it focus on the people who are killed or injured by the police at airports in the first world (Belgium, France, Canada, the United States, etc.) Nor does it focus on the poor conditions of airport cells (this was dealt with by the Portuguese press in 2005). The aim is to show that even in a relatively minor case, the whole process is riddled with preconceptions about race, appearance, type, and sexuality. And that even the mildest cases are nevertheless bitter.
15 years on from the start of the wave of migration to Portugal (the theme of my film Lisboetas), it is clear today that our political leaders did not know how to manage the situation intelligently or how to find a way for the country to make the most of the inadvertent “brain gain*” that fell into their laps. In a short period of time, Portugal received thousands of highly educated people, well trained in specific areas, and yet they wasted most of this valuable human capital by putting senseless obstacles in their paths. The case of medicine is particularly striking. Portugal is a country that has been so poorly governed over the last two decades that it has not trained doctors in sufficient numbers. Currently, there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of today’s population, so demand is met by importing doctors from Latin America. And yet nothing was done in the mid-nineties to facilitate matters for the hundreds of Eastern European doctors who would have welcomed the chance to practice medicine in Portugal.
When I was making my documentary Lisboetas, t took weeks of difficult negotiations with SEF (Customs and Border Protection Service), to get permission to film at an immigrant-processing centre in Lisbon. The rule sine qua non was that we were absolutely forbidden to film any of the SEF staff. In the event, filming at that location, which had been scheduled to take two days, was shut down by SEF’s communications’ department after just three hours. We were kindly expelled... “because the presence of the camera interfered with the provision of good service”. When Lisboetas opened, the board of SEF invited me to a meeting. The aim of the meeting was to explain to me that SEF was a transparent institution. So I suggested that they gave me permission to shoot a film in an airport’s interrogation rooms. They said they would look into it. Naturally, I never did receive an answer. There are hidden truths. In Portugal, the powers that be (governmental, judicial, the police) are panicked by the thought of exposure. Despite the limited resources available to them, they manage their public image down to the minutest detail. What they most fear being revealed is not just their abuses of power but their incompetence. That is the thread that runs through this Viagem a Portugal a freely adapted fictionalised account of a true story.
The Jury of the XX Spirit of Fire International Film Festival (Khanty-Mansiysk - Siberia) directed by the Georgian filmmaker Rezo Chkheidze gave the Golden Taiga Award (first prize) to the feature film "Journey to Portugal" by Sérgio Tréfaut for its sobriety and modernity. Based on a true story, the film portrays with courage and efficiency the abuse of power and the denial of basic dignity rights by the airport immigration police.
Moritz de Hadeln
«Journey to Portugal is a great film not just because it defies convention, but because at the same time it tells a story well worth telling. Two sublime performances from Maria de Medeiros and Isabel Ruth.»
Pedro Ponte, Antecinema
«It is impossible to confuse Tréfaut’s first feature-length fiction film with any other. It is distinctive, daring, structured and has substance. Clearly made with limited resources, Tréfaut has the good taste to make it simple and beautiful.»
Alexandre Borges, Jornal i
«Magnificent camera work.» André Santos, Time Out
«Tréfaut manages to focus the viewers’ attention on what really matters - the human side of the story. Wonderfully conveyed by Maria Medeiros in her most captivating screen performance in years, and by a spine-chilling Isabel Ruth. A revelation.» Jorge Mourinha, Público
FESTIVALS AND AWARDS
GOLDEN TAIGA - FIRST PRIZE OF SPIRIT OF FIRE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (SIBÉRIA)
AUDIENCE AWARD AND D.QUICHOTE AWARDAZORES FILM FESTIVAL (FAIAL)
BEST FEATURE FILM AND BEST SUPPORTING ACRESS - ISABEL RUTH - CAMINHOS DO CINEMA PORTUGUÊS
SPECIAL MENTION LUXOR EGYPTIAN AND EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL
«RELLUMES» AWARD FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE DE GIJÓN
Official Selection FILM FESTIVAL SPIRIT OF FIRE (Russia)
Official Selection FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE DE GIJÓn (Spain)
Official Selection LUXOR EGYPTIAN AND EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL (Egypt)
Official Selection CAMINHOS DO CINEMA PORTUGUÊS 2011 (Portugal)
Official Selection FESTIVAL DE CINEMA DO FAIAL / AZORES FILM FESTIVAl 2011 (Portugal)
Official Selection INDIE LISBOA 2011 (Portugal)
Official Selection ODESSA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Ukraine)
Official Selection FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DO RIO (Brazil)
Official Selection FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CURITIBA (Brazil)
Official Selection FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE BELÉM DO PARÁ (Brazil)
Official Selection COTTBUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Germany)
Official Selection FESTIVAL BERLINDA (Germany)
Official Selection SPIRIT OF FIRE DEBUT INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Russia)
Official Selection GENEVA HUMAN RIGHTS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Switzerland)
Official Selection FESTIVAL DE DERECHOS HUMANOS DE BUENOS AIREs (Argentina)
Official Selection FESTIVAL DE DERECHOS HUMANOS DE MEXICo (Mexico)
Official Selection DUHOK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Irak)
Official Selection KARAMA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Jordan)
Official Selection NANCHANG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (China)
Official Selection BEIJING INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (China)
Official Selection LILLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (France)
Official Selection RENCONTRES DU CINÉMA DE BEAUVAIS (France)
Official Selection GWANJU INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (South Korea)
Official Selection DUHOK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (Kurdistan-Iraq)
MOSTRA DE CINEMA PORTUGUÊS NO BRASIL (Brazil)