Running for your life, while escaping bombs from a warring government and militant fighters, caught in a battle of total annihilation. Romanticized, this thread of events could be plucked straight out of a movie. But the reality is horrifying, and afflicting far more than merely a fictional set of characters. A lifestyle wrecked by chaos and terrorism is the modern circumstance of more than 1.7 million refugees who have fled to Europe. Leaving their homes behind, these are fathers, mothers, brothers, and, sisters who have escaped the destruction of their nations, in the hopes for survival.
Sky And Ground drops viewers into the largest humanitarian crisis facing the world: the plight of the refugee. The documentary follows one family, the Nabi’s, as they travel illegally from Greece to Serbia, Hungary, and Austria. Their destination is a place of solace for countless displaced asylum seekers – Germany. There, they hope to reunite with other family members and start a new life. Directed by Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett, Sky And Ground is a harrowing deep-dive into today’s murky crisis of humanity. Without a doubt, the riveting feature will leave you completely immersed in the dark dilemmas of millions today.
“…follows one family, the Nabi’s, as they travel illegally from Greece to Serbia, Hungary, and Austria.“
Capturing a three-month dangerous journey from Greece to Germany, Sky And Ground begins with an introduction to Idomeni Refugee Camp, which sits on the Greece and Macedonia border. There, we meet Abdullah Sheik Nabi, a middle-aged Syrian who goes by the name of Guevara Nabi. We are then told the meaning behind the nickname. When Abdullah was a young student, he admired Che Guevara, so his classmates renamed him in his honor. Such a story draws you in, which serves to create even more impact when, a frame later, the scene shockingly shifts to footage of explosions and destroyed infrastructure in Aleppo, Syria circa 2012.
We learn from there that Guevara was one of the very first activists in Aleppo. Daily, he would work to capture video footage of the bombs inflicted on the village by the regime and the violent rebuttal of the Islamic extremist militias. Shortly after, he speaks about how he and his extended family fled to Turkey, and from there, ended up in the refugee camp in Greece. As the Nabi family venture forward on their difficult path to a safer life in Berlin, we get to know the rest of the clan.
From Jalila, Guevara’s elderly mother, to Rita, his youngest niece, all ages and personalities encompass the large group, who are hopeful but remain heartbreakingly realistic concerning their goal to get to Germany. Guevara fits as their leader by nature. Radiating with positivity, intelligence, and bravery, he devises plan after plan to get them to where they want to go. Over the course of the three months, the Nabi’s endure colossal hardships, including separation from one another and encounters with police, as they move from country to country.
“Lingering shots…build empathy, connecting the viewer to the world unfolding on the other end of a lens…“
The cinematography is particularly stunning in Sky And Ground. Brief, powerful moments stand out from the rest. Lingering shots on childlike items, like a kite floating in the wind, contrast sharply with the bleakness of the refugee camp down below. Innovative techniques such as these build further empathy, connecting the viewer to the world unfolding on the other end of a lens.
Battered tents on backdrops of train tracks and sandy fields are another thematic focus that contributes to the evocative atmosphere. Sky And Ground does a beautiful job of filming these makeshift homes while skirting any form of sensationalism. Above all, the moments that resonate most are the many intimate, vulnerable confessions to the camera. Whispers of vulnerability echo as one after another confides that they wish they had never left their hometown, or no longer believe in human rights.
Only the most heartless could watch Sky And Ground and not be moved by the suffering and spirit of human perseverance depicted. Tibbon and Bennett do a phenomenal job in compassionately sharing the story of a family defying insurmountable odds. This authentic account serves to remind that the refugee crisis lives on and should demand the attention of us all.
Sky And Ground (2018) Directed and Produced By Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett.
9.5 out of 10 stars