There are places so vast, while at the same time, so cramped and so densely populated, and so emotionally charged, that one might forget the individual living there. This film is a portrait of one of those places.
In the course of a few months in 2017, the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh became the most populated in the world. Out of sight, nearly 700,000 people from the Rohingya Muslim minority fled their country, Myanmar (formerly Burma), to escape genocide and seek asylum in this refugee camp.
Wandering, a Rohingya Story plunges us into the merciless reality of life in this gigantic camp. A documentary that is both deeply captivating and poetic, where drama meets light, where poetry and words of Rohingya refugee Kala Miya (Kalam) guide and enlighten us on the intricacies of this place that appears to have been frozen in time.
Today, prisoners of this major humanitarian crisis, Kalam, Mohammad, Montas and other exiles want their voices to be heard. Between the waiting and the fear of disappearance, the food distribution and soccer games, they bear witness to their daily lives and to the ghosts of the past.
Wandering, a Rohingya Story is a film that is both powerful and needed, which allows us to observe the incredible resilience of these exiled populations and of these children who, despite the chaos, retain their capacity to be amazed.
It was following a shocking Facebook post from the Kutupalong refugee camp in February 2018 by documentary photographer Renaud Philippe, that we became aware of the sheer extent of this major humanitarian crisis that has received so little media coverage. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of this situation and the power of Renaud's photos, we suggested that we join forces to create this film with as the main objective, alerting the public to the tragedy of the Rohingyas in exile.
What started out as a short film project quickly became a feature documentary project. From the start, our idea was to make a deeply immersive film, far from a purely informative document. It attempts to make us experience the daily life in the largest refugee camp in the world, where more than 700,000 human beings live in a cramped 13 km2 area.
The role of Rohingya refugee Kala Miya (Kalam) was central in this film. It was Renaud who first met Kalam in February 2018 during his first stay in the camp. Kalam naturally became an ally and the film crew’s guide out in the field. As a fixer, translator and sound recorder, he was the one who ultimately made this film possible. Over the course of the discussions, Kalam's personal story and the poetry he wrote was so meaningful, so universal, that we decided to make it the narrative thread of this film. To us, the dreamlike and poetic approach of Wandering, a Rohingya Story is a way of doing justice to the refugees inside.
Following the filming in Kutupalong camp in October 2018, we met the small Rohingya community in Quebec City (Canada), our hometown. Soon, we met Mohammed Shofi who lived for nearly 18 years in the Kutupalong camp. He became an ally and a friend and the long translation work began with him. He also became the narrator of this film, his soft, calm voice, reporting Kalam’s story.
In Wandering, a Rohingya Story, light and darkness live side by side, as do strength and despair, resilience and a deep sense of injustice. At the heart of this film, is an underlying theme, childhood; both painful and enlightening, forcing us to question: how is it still possible that such violence can still exist today? Who will be the next victims?
Inhabited by more than 700,000 people on a surface area of 13 km2, Kutupalong is by far the world’s most populous refugee camp. Located southeast of Bangladesh, it was created in 1991 to accommodate Rohingya refugees. A Muslim minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma), which is mostly Buddhist, the Rohingya were persecuted by nationalists, notably those from the Burmese military.
After decades of tension between the two peoples, the year 2017 marked an unprecedented escalation of violence. Burning of entire villages, large-scale massacres, torture and sexual assault forced the Rohingya into mass exile. Within a few weeks, several hundreds of thousands of men, women and children fled their country to find refuge in Bangladesh.
Victims of a genocide decried by the United Nations, the Rohingya are also stateless, in other words, without legal nationality, because no country considers them citizens. Confined to makeshift camps, stripped of their freedom and terrorized by the horrors they experienced, they live a life without hope, daily suffering the hardships of a major humanitarian crisis, which so far has been for the most part ignored by the media.
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In parallel of this documentary film, a multidisciplinary exhibition was created and presented at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Presented in the old prison building of the MNBAQ, this multidisciplinary exhibition combines video projections, photographs, children's drawings, dioramas and sculptures, poems, testimonies and ambient sounds in order to immerse us in the world‘s largest refugee camp, the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh.