Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a captain in the Greek Coast Guard, is caught in the struggle of refugees fleeing the Middle East and traveling the short distance from the coast of Turkey to the island of Lesbos. Despite having limited resources, the captain and his crew attempt to save lives during the immense humanitarian crisis.
As one of three nominated short documentaries focusing on issues surrounding the war in Syria and the resulting migrant crisis, it will come as no surprise that Daphne Matziaraki’s 4.1 Miles contains scenes, images and voices that will do nothing less than haunt you. Matziaraki helms this New York Times opdoc with astounding poise as she follows Greek Coast Guard captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos as he responds to alerts of migrant boats in distress on the Aegean sea.
A sobering framework of the stress being placed on the community of the Greek island of Lesbos is established in Papadopoulos’ opening remarks as he recalls an incident in 2001 when 20 Afghan refugees found their way to their island and it was the biggest story of the year. Anyone paying attention to the migrant crisis will immediately gain some semblance of perspective as to the effect that it is having on this small coastal community.
If it is possible to perfectly capture chaos, then that objective is certainly achieved here. The desperate storm of life and death that accompanies each illegal crossing swirls around the camera in the form of hysterical parents and terrified children. The seemingly anarchic coverage of each rescue gives us a blend of up close terror and obscured shots accompanied by piercing screams. Even for a film so entrenched in the very real horrors of rescues that do not always save everyone, Matziaraki seems to know when to look away. This is not to spare us trauma, but to allow us to fill in what we cannot see with our own imaginations. It is in that moment that we see our own loved ones being pulled from the sea. Therein lies the film’s ability to sensitise the audience to the gravity of this crisis.
The film steers clear of laying any particular political blame and instead Matziaraki wisely takes the time to present her subjects’ broad opinions as to whose responsibility these refugees actually are. Playing out via a bar discussion, the film takes the time out to establish a social backdrop to the film’s events and in doing so provides an indication as to how far reaching the consequences of this situation are. These discussions provide pacing that the film would be too exhausting to watch without.
Quiet moments of lamentation very much work in the film’s favour. Rather than being a foil with which to preach, they serve as a reminder not to take for granted either the severity of this crisis or the fact that the heroes constantly throwing themselves into the breach of rescuing (or sometimes failing to rescue) vulnerable and desperate people pay a high price for their bravery, and that it is a price that they cannot continue to pay indefinitely.
Have you seen ‘4.1 Miles’? Let us know what you thought in the comments section. You can also catch the Deadline interview with director Daphne Matziaraki here.
Director: Daphne Matziaraki
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