Wolfgang Fischer′s new film Styx tackles Europe′s refugee crisis | Film | DW | 14.09.2018
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Wolfgang Fischer's new film Styx tackles Europe's refugee crisis

In Wolfgang Fischer's new film, a woman sailing alone on the Mediterranean faces life-or-death decisions. Styx raises uncomfortable questions about personal responsibility and Europe's refugee crisis.

In Styx, a woman named Rike (played by Susanne Wolff) embarks on a solo sailing trip, planning to take her 11-meter-long boat from Gibraltar to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. She doesn't get very far out into the Mediterranean before she comes across a boat packed with refugees, in danger of sinking. She calls for help, but with the coast guard slow to arrive she is eventually forced to act.

Styx could hardly be more topical, referencing the dramatic situation playing out on a daily basis between Africa and Europe where many refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean. Wolfgang Fischer's shocking film, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, has the audience perched on the edge of their seats.

Read more: Mediterranean refugee rescues spark EU dispute 

DW: Rike dreams of sailing to paradise, but she lands in hell. Is that the essence of Styx: No one can be happy as long as others find misfortune?

Wolfgang Fischer: The film raises existential questions: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who would we have to be — in this world? And what does it mean for us if we find ourselves in a dilemma like Rike's? The main character plans to sail to this island in the middle of the Atlantic. That's her personal dream. Then, she encounters people who don't have all the security systems our protagonist has on her sailing trip. These people have a different notion of paradise. It's important to show this contrast, with everything it entails.

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On board a refugee rescue ship

People could see your film as an appeal for empathy, an appeal to the world to help refugees. Was that your intention?

Most certainly! It's about creating empathy. What would we do if we found ourselves in such a situation? When we witness an accident on the highway, do we stop or do we pass by? Both are decisions! That's what happens at sea: How do we behave toward the refugees, and do we feel empathy for these people, or not at all? That's what the film is meant to find out.

Answers always have consequences…

Yes, they do. And that's what we will have to deal with.

One of the refugees wears a Cristiano Ronaldo T-shirt — an indicator that the world is moving closer together and everyone has the same rights?

That's how it should be, and it's fixed in the German constitution: 'Human dignity shall be inviolable.' We refer to that in the film. We live in a global world; we watch the same films, listen to the same music, root for the same football teams. That's why the boy is wearing a Ronaldo T-shirt.

The refugees are headed for Europe — is that Europe's demise?

Eighty-five percent of migration takes place within Africa. Only 15 percent want to go to Europe, and about 700,000 people are trapped in North Africa. The EU is home to 500 million people. That begs the question whether this is something we really can't afford.

We want to seal ourselves off and close the sea routes. But people still flee, and currently, more people are dying in the desert than at sea. They die where no cameras are watching. It's a cynical attitude that cannot be accepted. The tendency to spend development aid budgets on keeping people out instead of on development is also terrible. We invest in border security, we form alliances with dubious regimes, we fund inhumane structures and deliberately abandon people. We are betraying our fundamental values.

So is Europe going to ruin, from a moral point of view?

If things continue in this vein, yes. We're losing sight of our humanitarian approach. Europe once stood together in solidarity. Solidarity is not the foundation when we sign deals with states ruled by tyrants, for instance Libya. These regimes do terrible things — and we support them?

You're saying the debate about the refugee issue is headed in the wrong direction. However, your film gives few answers but raises many questions.

Of course, it's difficult to give answers and advice. A film can't do justice to the issue. So we must raise questions and get every single viewer to ask, 'What do I do, how would I act?'

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