The human flotsam of a global crisis

MIGRANTS: Africa's migrant crisis seen through the lens of a mother to be.

In Letter to Nikola, Hara Kaminara literally dives into a very personal and intimate study of the human crisis of illegal migrants making the perilous Mediterranean crossing to escape poverty, oppression, and violence in their African or North African homelands.

As a photographer on board an international rescue vessel, the Aquarius (which between 2016 and 2018 when its missions were stopped by laws effectively making aiding refugees at sea were introduced in some southern European countries) rescued more than 29,500 people in danger of drowning, she is at the centre of this story.

Kaminara was on three of those missions and recorded the heart-rending work of rescuing (and sometimes mourning) the human flotsam of a global refugee crisis.

Letter to Nikola, a film by Hara Kaminara
Letter to Nikola, a film by Hara Kaminara

h2>Extreme danger

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There have been many films about the extreme dangers that refugees face crossing the quixotic waters of the Mediterranean, often in substandard and overloaded vessels, left to their fates by callous human traffickers. Ever since 2015, when images of a dead toddler, three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, shocked the world, news correspondents and documentary filmmakers have focused on the scandalous conditions – and equally, scandalous disregard exhibited by most European governments for refugees – the desperate people face.

Kaminara takes a different approach altogether, more intimate and personal. Though she did not know it during her last mission on the Aquarius, she was already pregnant by her boyfriend, Max Avis, whom she had met while they were both crew members. After returning to port and learning she was pregnant – and her youthful notions of a freewheeling lifestyle faced an abrupt end – she fell into a depression.

Kaminara was on three of those missions and recorded the heart-rending work of rescuing (and sometimes mourning) the human flotsam of a global refugee crisis.

Melting clocks

«Time stopped as if I were in another dimension,» she recalls. Her world became one with Dali’s melting clocks, she records.
Her seafaring days temporarily over, the director decides to turn her time as an expectant mother to good use and make a film based on the still photography she shot and videos (from which sources it is unclear) of the rescues at the sea that the Aquarius was involved in. With her mind, body, and emotions wrapped up in her pregnancy, she decides to use this as the vehicle for telling the story of the refugees through a letter to her daughter, Nikola, growing inside her womb as she assembles the visual material and other elements of the film.

It is not an entirely original approach – other female directors have also employed the journey of pregnancy to tell disparate stories – and there was the danger of it becoming a self-indulgent . . .

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Nick Holdsworth
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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