Given that we are witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World war it seemed fitting that Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016 ran a session entitled How to Document the World’s Biggest News Stories:Telling the Refugee Crisis.
Chaired by Roger Graef, the panel included Siobhan Sinnerton, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for News and Current Affairs, James Bluemel, Director of Exodus: Breaking Into Europe coming soon on BBC1, Ahmad Al-Rashid, a Syrian refugee who is featured in Exodus and James Rogan, director of BBC’s forthcoming series Welcome to Britain (working title) for BBC3.
Introducing the session, Roger Graef explained that ‘for the all size and urgency of the issue it is only when immigrants are seen as humans that people can start to properly engage and understand the subject’ and how ‘it is only in following and documenting the full odysseys of migrants that we are afforded greater insight’.
Panellists then talked about recently aired and up and coming documentaries that manage to address these issues.
Over a year ago, Keo Films handed over cameras to 75 people attempting to travel to Europe for Exodus: Breaking into Europe, a six-part series due for transmission soon on BBC1.
Siobhan Sinnerton commissioned Children on the Frontline, an hour long documentary following a Syrian family fleeing Aleppo for a new life in Germany which aired in May. She felt that the film was distinctive and added value to Channel 4’s coverage on the refugee crisis as Marcel Mettelsiefen filmed the family for over three years.
James Rogan introduced a new project from BBC3 with a working title of Welcome to Britain documenting the integration process of three immigrants in a mini ‘7-Up’ style documentary series over several years.
Obviously the refugee crisis is not going away and commissioners are still interested in commissioning documentaries about the subject. Clare Paterson, BBC’s Commissioning Editor for documentaries said after the session: “I don’t have a recipe of what we are looking for. The situation is changing so fast and we are interested in finding different ways of covering this.”
Siobhan Sinnerton aded: “Channel 4 has and is constantly looking to cover the evolving refugee crisis in many different ways. We have looked at the under-reported plight of disabled refugees in Lebanon and followed families fleeing Syria as they transition into new lives in Europe. We are currently filming some extraordinary refugee experiences, both on the migration route itself and those trying to come to Britain.”