Evaporating Borders: Rotterdam Review

International Film Festival Rotterdam
"Evaporating Borders"
A thoughtful visual essay about immigration, nationality and European integration.  

Exec-produced by Laura Poitras, documentary-maker Iva Radivojevic's first feature-length piece is about racial tensions in an increasingly multicultural Cyprus.

As someone who was born in the former Yugoslavia with Serbian and Croatian ancestry, raised in the Greek-speaking half of Cyprus and educated in the U.S., the now New York-based documentary-maker Iva Radivojevic is almost always on the move. The constant struggle of being an anxious outsider drives her first feature-length piece, a visual essay that outlines the political and cultural schisms befalling a peripheral European Union member state with – according to the filmmaker – immigrants making up one-quarter of its population.

Unfolding in five parts, Evaporating Borders is slow and reflective, but rarely veers away from its main idea. Beginning with a monolog about harrowing tales of illegal immigrants dying at sea and ending with a lawyer describing Cyprus – which is seeing a rise of far-right nationalist groups taking its cue from xenophobic movements across Europe – as the worst place for émigrés to live, Radivojevic's film is a valiant call for a new way of thinking about the impact of immigration on abstract notions of nationhood.

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Having bowed at Rotterdam as part of the festival's special State of Europe sidebar, the film's topicality is now enhanced as debate ensues about the Swiss electorate voting (albeit narrowly) in support of curbing immigration. Counting Laura Poitras – the award-winning filmmaker now well-known for working with Edward Snowden in exposing NSA's global surveillance programs – as an executive producer, the artfully executed documentary could expect a sustained run in U.S. and international independent film showcases, starting with its North American premiere at SXSW in March.

With sections titled "An island in the sun," "The visitors," "Fear's invention," "Imagined Identities" and finally "Evaporating Borders", Radivojevic has established a story arc of sorts that mirrors the changes entertained by a self-defined political entity in the age of international population flows. And the narrative takes on a more tragic tone, as even the first chapter is named in irony: as the film cuts from one image of rustic tranquility to another – the sea at dusk, quaint rustic streets and so on – the director's monolog provides an account of the twisted realities of the day. As illegal immigrants perish on high seas, those who arrive on land legally are in for a rough existence. In Cyprus, Radivojevic speaks of domestic workers exploited and abused, while Asian and African students study in shady colleges and live in uncertainty. In one scene, a refugee protests after being refused asylum after a very brief meeting with officials, while in other images those who managed to stay are forced to remain in decrepit camps without hopes of securing a future anywhere else.

It's from such portrayals of hopelessness that Evaporating Borders builds its inner fury, as the portrayals of discrimination and red tape segues into the depiction of immigrant-baiting (and bashing) right-wing groupings and an unabashed perpetuation of xenophobic attitudes among a certain section of the Cypriot population – a development made possible by the country's downward economic spiral and financial crash in recent years, and also the influence of the Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi extremists which have come to political prominence in the island-state's fraternal neighbors Greece. (Cypriots speak Greek and there have long been calls for the two countries to be unified – a demand which angered the local Turkish population, and led to Ankara's military invasion and the establishment of a puppet state on the northern half of the island.)

Once a newcomer to Cyprus herself, Radivojevic has made sharp observations about the trials and tribulations as faced by the island's much-maligned migrant minority today, and the film illustrates her empathy and ability to capture the fears and frustrations of people such as Sri Lankan helpers and Palestinian refugees – all recorded and edited into a precise and concise package, and one that ends with a modicum of hope as anti-racist activists audaciously stand up against the right-wing extremists.

While an effective and worthy snapshot of the here-and-now in Cyprus in 2013, Evaporating Borders seems limited in expanding its scope and applying its final analysis on a wider time-spatial framework. In exploring the issue at hand, the film might have to provide a perspective on Cyprus' unique position in the history of Europe and the European Union; its own identity issues, as it attempts to find its own way forward as it exists in the shadow of Greece and Turkey; and also how all this plays into the dynamics of the Fortress Europe mentality as developed in capitals across the continent. As it stands, Evaporating Borders is a thoughtful, lyrical preamble, and perhaps a prolog to a more substantial entry looking at people moving to break barriers.


Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Signals: The State of Europe), Jan. 24, 2014

Production Companies: Transient Pictures, Lea Est Mundi

Director: Iva Radivojevic

Producers: Landon van Soest, Leandros Savvides

Executive Producer: Laura Poitras

Screenwriter: Iva Radivojevic

Cinematographers: Iva Radivojevic, Giorgos Ioannou

Editor: Iva Radivojevic

Consulting Editor: Jay Rabinowitz

Sound Designer: John Moros

Music: Alexander Berne, Stian Westerhus, Sandy Bour, Monsieur Doumani

International Sales: Ivaasks Films

In Greek, English and Arabic

No rating, 75 minutes