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Vanessa Redgrave • Actress, director

“I want to help refugees in any way possible”


- Legendary British actress Vanessa Redgrave talked to us about her directorial debut, Sea Sorrow, which was screened at the 12th Rome Film Fest

Vanessa Redgrave  • Actress, director
(© Getty Images/Rome Film Fest)

At the 12th Rome Film Fest, 80-year-old British actress and political activist Vanessa Redgrave (Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, Blow-Up) presented her directorial debut, Sea Sorrow [+see also:
interview: Vanessa Redgrave
film profile
, a documentary about migrants seeking asylum in Europe. For the shooting of the film, she travelled to Greece, Lebanon, Italy, Calais and London. Among the people who speak up for the refugees in Great Britain are actors such as Emma ThompsonRalph FiennesDaisy Bevan and Simon Coates, who contributed a scene from a Shakespeare opera to the film.

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Cineuropa: Do you consider Sea Sorrow a strong plea for humanity?
Vanessa Regrave:
 I think that European governments are committing a crime. Jews were killed because European governments refused them visas, with the exception of about 10,000 children who got away. We went with our film to the Human Rights Film Festival in Nuremberg, and it was wonderful to see how ordinary people in Bavaria are opening their homes to the refugees. Young people have got very firm values when it comes to looking after refugees. This is thanks to leadership of Angela Merkel, who said, “We can’t do what we have already done again, but we were right to do it.” 

But we also learned that the CSU leadership in Bavaria has been pursuing a policy of sending the police to round up Afghan refugees from the schools and private homes in the middle of the night, sending them back to Afghanistan. 

Where did you shoot Sea Sorrow?
First of all, at the age of 80, I couldn’t have made this film without my son, Carlo Nero. He produced the film and gave me his creative input, not to mention all the hours of work for the organisation of it all. He invested himself completely in helping me to make the film that I wanted to make. We went to the Calais Jungle last year, but also to Greece, Italy, Lebanon and London.

Is there a “Welcome Refugees” movement in the UK?
Our government has been terrible at taking in refugees. It is up to organisations such as Safe Passage, since we are taking our government to court because they are breaking laws and their promises to Lord Alf Dubs, a “Kindertransport” child who was saved from the Nazis in 1939. The British government promised him they would take in 3,000 unaccompanied minors, but we are far from anywhere near that number. Some of them have been taken in because of Safe Passage groups that pushed for the most vulnerable children. The workers in the Calais Jungle were saying they were so vulnerable and traumatised that they couldn’t stay in the camp. The government wishes these people would just go away so that they won’t be a problem any more. When people start to think this way about people, soon they start to think this way about their own people – and then we have fascism.

You experienced war yourself as a child. Did that have a life-changing impact on you?
Of course, my outlook is completely different from that of a child who has never experienced war. This is one of the reasons why I want to help refugees in any way possible. I know the situation from the point of view of shock and trauma. It is an incubus, a nightmare that lasts your whole life. You suffer terribly because you can’t sleep and you tremble. We wanted to portray that in our film. When we show the bomb at the beginning, we made it as loud as possible because we tried everything we could to get the audience to know the proximity of war in every sense of the word.

Why did you decide to use no music in the film?
The water is the music, the soundtrack. Water has a huge significance nowadays because of climate change. Climate change means that the coasts of every country in the world will be flooded. And because of that, there will be a lot more refugees – even if there isn’t any war. Everybody says they know this, but we are living our lives as if we didn’t. There is always some unexpected answer to something because that is how things are in life, in nature and the universe – but we must help in any way we can, and right now.

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