The plight of the immigrant has never been an easy one, and is an experience most of us born in the United States, or other such countries, only read about in history books, or occasionally learn about from much older relatives or world news programs. Serbian-born Iva Radivojevic allows us to enter the lives of those emigrating to present day Cyprus, in her premiere documentary feature, Evaporating Borders.
A visual-artist-turned-film-director, Radivojevic emigrated to Cyprus as a child, and now lives in the United States. Her interest in making Evaporating Borders is not so much controversial political-reportage as it is a very personal study of fissured identities. As such, her cinematic approach to what’s happening in the Republic of Cyprus is poetically visual, often beautiful, and extremely potent and provocatively disturbing. Evaporating Borders is divided into five vignettes, all of which are given the sub-names: An Island in the Sun, The Visitors, Fear’s Invention, Imagined Identities and Evaporating Borders. An Island in the Sun acts as the film’s introduction, and is narrated strictly through voiceover and the breathtaking imagery of the Island of Cyprus. The female narrator speaks slowly, almost lethargically, relaying the horrors befalling those seeking asylum within the country’s borders.
A member of the European Union (EU), Cyprus is surrounded by Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria. Cyprus is one of the largest and most highly populated countries in the Mediterranean. The country has a long history of receiving political refugees from the Middle East and Africa— and most recently a large population of migrants from Iraq, specifically— with a smaller influx from India. The Cypriot nationals are primarily Greek and to a slightly lesser extent, Turkish Muslims.
What we learn from Evaporating Borders is that the newest migrants are fair game for scapegoating, bullying and various other abuses. Work is not an option for the migrants for the first six months of their stay, and when work becomes available, it is primarily abominable for both men and women. There is also a catch-22 when it comes to migrant employment and support. It seems that Cyprus receives lots of money to harbor its visitors. Nevertheless, sign-carrying protestors are seen on most street corners, condemning the migrants as invaders, who leach off the Island, trying to get something for nothing.
As to whether Evaporating Borders is a documentary worth viewing, my answer is a resounding, “YES!” I think the film is a very important one, considering that every one of us has ancestors who were immigrants at one time or another. Unfortunately, this little fact is often forgotten by the complacent among us.
Aesthetically, I’ve never seen such magnificent cinematography in a documentary, and love the way the landscape, sea and the free-living flamingos are juxtaposed against the displaced, and the violent. Equally impressive is Radivojevic’s skill in driving her message home, by subtly and seamlessly building upon each preceding vignette. I also like the names of each sub-section, which are a bit playful and disarming considering their content. There are also tiny rays of hope that stem from the film— so be on the lookout for these.
In terms of flaws, I can only think of two issues that bother me. I think that the first vignette is too long. Its Avant-garde approach, coupled with the hypnotic voice of the narrator, is almost too relaxing— and when length is added to the mix— distraction is possible. I would also like to see a bit more context regarding the nationals, their history and the political unrest of the past that created the present.
All in all, however, I think Evaporating Borders is a must-see movie and its filmmaker is a highly sensitive rarity, with the great ability to open our eyes and change the world.