Monday, 18 January 2021

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United Nations Cinema: Sea Sorrow

On 3rd May 2018, United Nations Cinema screened ‘Sea Sorrow’ in order to highlight the global refugee crisis. The film marks Vanessa Redgrave’s debut as a film director and is a very personal, dynamic meditation on the current global refugee crisis through the eyes and voices of campaigners and children mixing past and present, documentary and drama in its reflection on the importance of human rights. The film was screened in partnership with UNHCR-UK (The UN Refugee Agency), Aviva and The Consortium for Street Children (CSC) at Aviva HQ in London.

Vanessa Redgrave and Carlo Nero Introducing the film

The screening was followed by a conversation on the issues highlighted in the film. The guest speakers included: Vanessa Redgrave (Director and Human Rights Advocate); Carlo Nero (Screenwriter/ Film Director - Producer of ‘Sea Sorrow’); Caroline Ford (CEO of The Consortium for Street Children); Laura Padoan (External Relations Officer for UNHCR-UK); moderated by Deborah Seward (UNRIC).

The film was introduced by Ms. Redgrave, placing her film in historical context: ‘This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,’ she began; ‘I remember Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948 in Paris; it was seen as an international Magna Carta; it gave post-war children hope for the future, because in World War II, there was no international law protecting the Jews,’ she continued: ‘I want the UK to be renowned for its legal environment of international law protecting people.’

This set the theme for the panel discussion which followed the film; with Ms. Redgrave elaborating on her take on the UK’s legal failings in this global refugee crisis: ‘It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a question of law; it should protect everybody. The law is about protection; and it’s been broken.’ ‘We’re in danger,’ she warned; ‘but there are a lot of wonderful people around, who we can trust in to make a difference.’ Mr. Nero went on to elaborate on some ‘extraordinary NGOs involved in helping refugees – Citizens UK, Safe Passage – with very few resources. I want to reach out to them and see how we can help. They are such a font of information and ideas.’

Speaker Panel with Deborah Seward speaking

One such idea, echoed by all the panelists, was the importance of highlighting individual stories. Ms. Padoan emphasized: ‘These individuals each have their own story. And once you’ve heard those stories, once you’ve heard a young man tell you about the death of his mother, the suffering is emotional – it’s very difficult to close your heart to that suffering.’ Mr. Nero reiterated this: ‘If you see people escaping terrible persecution, and you see them as fellow human beings, you have an obligation to help them. My biggest concern is indifference.’

On the subject of indifference, Ms. Ford remarked how 'one of the main links between street children and refugee children is public opinion. Street children have always been shunned and pushed away, and we are seeing the same thing with unaccompanied refugee children; it’s shocking;’ whilst Ms. Padoan highlighted ‘the courage of refugees; for a young mother to take their child on this journey; that should inspire us to have the courage to meet this challenge and stand up to racism; to stand up to this hostile environment; to meet hostility with hospitality and to say that refugees are welcome here.’

Thankfully, there are those already rising to this challenge: refugees and British citizens alike. Ms. Padoan detailed how: ‘Different initiatives are appearing with people wanting to use their skills to help. Refugees want to give back, to contribute; to be a useful member of society in their host country: this is a great British value.’ Ms. Ford added that ‘there is a push and pull when you coordinate. I love working with companies and investors who want to help in the best way they can. We need to see how to best use our skills in order to help in the best way possible.’

(L-R) Deborah Seward, Karen Davies, Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Padoan and Carlo Nero

The conversation concluded by emphasizing the importance of local development – and how we can make an impact. Ms. Padoan urged the audience to: ‘make a difference on the local level: write to your local MP, vote in local elections, go on marches and let your voice be heard!’ Whilst Ms. Seward summarized how ‘this evening is a perfect example of what we can do to help; it is a different type of UN, a different type of corporate world. 10/15 years ago it wasn’t like that. We would not be working together, and it is important that we are here, working together. This is how it should be done.’

Ms. Seward ended the discussion by reminding us that: ‘This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and more importantly that: ‘Words matter; Declarations matter; Laws matter even more. Thank you; and we hope you continue the conversation outside.’

  • To watch the trailer, click here.
  • For more information about the film, click here.
  • To download the handout, click here.
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