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By Phil Hall | July 23, 2005

The plight of Europe’s Gypsy population has been one of never-ending tragedy, ranging from enslavement during the medieval period and culminating with extermination during the Holocaust, with constant persecution during the years in-between. Even the word “Gypsy” has become so strongly linked with negative notions that the community prefers to use “Roma” as its point of identification. The fall of Communism in the late 1980s made the situation worse, with a new wave of pogroms and discrimination in Eastern Europe which resulted in an unprecedented refugee stream to Western Europe and North America.

“Suspino: A Cry for Roma” details several people within the global Roma population as they cope with survival against political and economic odds. A young refugee family living in a squalid trailer camp within a garbage dump outside of Rome has no other way to raise funds outside of begging. Their world is in constant danger from a hostile Italian political system which does not welcome their presence, even to the point of bringing bulldozers to their trailer camp. In Toronto, the government repeatedly denies Roma applications for refugee status, despite well-documented reports of violence against the Roma in their native Hungary and Romania. One Roma activist returns to Romania, where he traces the route of mob violence which left houses burned and people murdered within a frenzy of ethnic-cleansing madness.

This is a genuine tragedy, to be certain, and it is somewhat unfortunate the film never seems very organized. The stories pinball back and forth with no particular schematic logic, and they often seem to break off just as things are getting particularly interesting. There also seems to have been no real effort to speak with government officers in Romania, Italy or Canada about their policies towards Roma refugees; the Roma interviewed in the film speak of police harassment, but the cops are never present to give their side of the story.

Furthermore, the film is burdened with hammy English translations for the Romany-speaking subjects. This is very distracting (it sounds like Bad Acting 101) and subtitles would’ve been much more effective.

But despite the problems in the production, the gravity of the subject is enough to warrant serious attention for this documentary. I came to this film shortly after the G8 conference agreed on a multi-billion-dollar aid package to Africa. It is ironic that the predominantly European G8 has tons of money to share with Africa yet does not seem to notice refugees living in garbage dumps or the continuation of ethnic violence within allegedly democratic nations. The abuses and hardships within “Suspino: A Cry for Roma” are cause for any civilized and intelligent person to cry in shame.

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