Midnight Traveler

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Midnight Traveler
"Unlike a more conventional refugee documentary - shot by an outsider parachuting in - this is an intimate and ongoing study in which the family have complete agency, lending the film an additional ring of truth." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

There have been many documentaries in the past few years focusing on the experience of refugees seeking asylum in Europe - but this time it's extremely personal.

Filmmakers Hassan Fazili and Fatima Hussaini, along with their children Nargis and Zahra, record their flight from Afghanistan on three mobile phones. The need to leave their homeland comes after they were targeted by the Taliban following the airing of Hassan's documentary Peace In Afghanistan - about a Taliban commander who renounced violence, and was subsequently assassinated. The decision to take the dangerous 3,500 mile overland smuggling route to Europe also comes after failed attempt at seeking asylum in neighbouring Tajikistan.

The footage, shot over two years, was edited at the same time by Emelie Mahdavian, who received the film on SD cards - not an easy job given that the family's destination was so uncertain and one that is a work of craftsmanship. More than simply a record of their physical journey, Midnight Traveler is also a document of the Fazili family unit, with Fatima and eldest daughter Nargis also recording footage.

We are immersed in the fabric of their lives, not just during the stressful and worrying times on the road but also at more inconsequential moments, of building snowmen or learning to ride a bike. The family show a fearlessness in their willingness for emotional moments to be recorded and in doing so they also illustrate how, even when faced with immense insecurity and uncertainty, a certain level of normality remains. Unlike a more conventional refugee documentary - shot by an outsider parachuting in - this is an intimate and ongoing study in which the family have complete agency, lending the film an additional ring of truth.

News reports can show you how tensions run high near refugee camps, such as the one the family end up in when they reach Bulgaria, but this insider view invites us to see the sheer fear sparked by the feeling of defenselessness and homelessness in the face of a wall of hate. It also forces us to confront the situation that exists in many of these almost prison-like camps, with Zahra's face a mess of bed bug bites after just one night.

"We've come to a place as bad as our own country," says Fatima at one point, while the traumatic effect of threat is written all over their children's faces, particularly Nargis, who recalls how a man tried to punch her.

More than just a film of flight, this is a contemplative consideration of what it means emotionally to undertake this type of journey. Hassan also takes time to consider the impact documenting their lives has on the family itself, questioning the difficult multiple role of being dad, filmmaker and subject simultaneously. This film shows that for families like the Fazilis there is no easy way out of their threatening situation or in to a safer life elsewhere - it may have been shot on the hoof, but this is a well-crafted call for compassion.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2019
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When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

Director: Hassan Fazili

Year: 2019

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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