Watani: My Homeland–Oscar Nominated Docu about Syrian Children Refugees

Marcel Mettelsiefen, the German director of the Oscar-nominated docu short Watani: My Homeland, spent three years with four Syrian children, recording their journey from fighters on the front lines of the civil war that has ravaged their country.

Mettelsiefen went to Syria as a photographer for Der Spiegel and met Abu Ali, a commander in the Free Syrian Army and the father to Hammoudi, Helen, Farah and Sara. After Ali was abducted by ISIS militants, mother Hala and her children fled to Turkey into Germany, where they found political asylum.

Watani is up for consideration at a time when the Syrian refugee crisis has become heavily embattled subject in American politics.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, setting off a series of protests and legal battles that most recently ended in a federal appeals panel ruling 3-0 to uphold a suspension of Trump’s ban.

Most compelling part of the family’s narrative?

In Syria, everything was big and dangerous and visual. Once they left, I had to understand how I could continue to tell their story. I then realized that the most important thing to capture in this film is their development. This was the most interesting part for me, as the person who followed these kids around for three years.

But what makes a character a good character is the access you have, the trust you are able to gain. The very special part of it is that this is a female Muslim family. Normally, if you are a man, you are not able to stay with the female women in the same room. But they allowed me to live with them for three years, sleeping in the same room.

Gaining access?

Hala, very deliberately, wanted to tell a counter-narrative to what is perceived about her religion, in the entire world — this Islamaphobic and xenophobic reactions of, for example, the U.S. government and in Germany. When we watch this family we can relate to the deaccession that a mother takes. Every mother in such a dangerous situation would make the same decisions to take her children and try to leave and seek shelter in another country.