Spanish sales agent Agencia Freak has picked up the international rights to Malaga Film Festival featured documentary “Drowning Letters” (“Cartas Mojadas”), director Paula Palacios’ debut feature on Europe’s half decade-long refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.
Produced by Madrid-based Morada Films, and one of 20 titles making their market bow at the Malaga Spanish Screenings, the 81-minute feature aims to set all the news coverage about the crisis into context, using a dramatic, moving and poetic style.
The film interweaves Palacios’ own footage taken over a five-year period — including scenes aboard a 2018 rescue mission by the Spanish humanitarian rescue vessel Open Arms — with the reflections of a 10-year-old girl, whose voice speaks from the bottom of the sea.
According to Palacios, this voice was inspired by all the people she met during the making of the film.
“It’s there to give us information or express her feelings regarding different steps of the trip she took herself,” she added.
The director, who has spent 10 years making TV documentaries for broadcasters including Aljazeera, describes “Drowning Letters” as a “creative documentary.” This is her first feature.
She defines this as a nonfiction film that “seeks to go beyond traditional direct storytelling of capturing what happens in front of your camera, allowing you to go deeper into the story.”
The film captures the refugees’ sea-sprayed journey under the makeshift canopies of the Open Arms, following their rescue from a leaky raft off the coast of Libya, as well as their arrival in a hostile Paris.
It also features the rescue boat’s interception by Libyan coastguards: it took Palacios over a year to get a permit to film aboard their vessel; and in Libya itself, where the film’s final act explores the exploitation faced by refugees who do not make it as far as Europe.
Accompanying the footage are letters from mothers to their children, which attempt to explain why they undertook such a perilous journey. According to Palacios, the letters are used as a device to tell their story “in a more creative way” than a straightforward interview.
Agencia Freak’s Millán Vázquez-Ortiz said that Palacios’ talent as a filmmaker and access to the protagonists of the story lent “unquestionable value to the film.”
He added: “Paula faces courageously, and in a very poetic way, one of the biggest challenges of our time. We clearly consider ‘Drowning Letters’ a must.”
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