An Intimate View of the Migrant Experience in “Those Who Jump”

Mar 1, 2016

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest. Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes. 

On the northern coast of Morocco, Africa is separated tantalizingly from European territory by a heavily guarded fence. The fence – tall, imposing and dangerous – is the bottleneck for thousands of Africans hoping to cross the border to the European territory at the tip of Morocco before coming one step closer to navigating the Mediterranean Sea to continental Europe.

Directors Estephan Wagner and Moritz Siebert had been wanting to make a documentary about the Africa-to-Europe migrant experience for years, but they needed a collaborator. They found him in Abou Bakar Sidibé, a Malian man who had been living on Mount Gougourou for more than a year trying unsuccessfully to make the crossing to Europe. Together, the three created "Les Sauteurs," or "Those Who Jump."

Siebert and Wagner gave Sidibé some money and a camera and quickly discovered a kindred spirit – another filmmaker. Every few weeks, Siebert and Wagner traded out batteries and memory cards with Sidibé and opened footage that captured the terrors – and, occasionally, the joys – of lives spent quite literally on the edge. 

Wagner and Siebert will be at True/False with their film. Sidibé, however is seeking asylum in Germany and is unable to leave the country.

KBIA spoke with Wagner and Siebert about meeting Sidibé, the unique experience of directing a film they hadn’t shot themselves and what they hope audiences take away from the film.

Rees: How did you first find Abou, and then how did your relationship change and evolve?

Wagner: Well, Abou, first we met him first through the stringer we work with, he is a photojournalist in Melilla and Spain and has been working on the issue for over a decade. And he knew the Malian community because on this hill, in this makeshift camp, people organize themselves in national communities. So there are people from Nigeria, from Cameroon, from Côte D'Ivoire/Ivory Coast, and so on. He knew the people from Mali quite well. So through him, we got into that community and we met several of these men and ended up giving two cameras out -- one to Abou and one to another man called Baba. Very quickly we realized that actually the footage we were getting from Abou was so far beyond what we could ever have imagined, really.

Rees: One of the things I loved about the film was that it balanced moments of lighthearted humor with obviously some really hard-to-watch and very climatic scenes of the attempted jumps and things. Can you tell me about balancing those moments?

Siebert: Abou would say, “This is Mount Gougourou – it is hope and despair and life and death.” And that kind of shows already this juxtaposition of these opposing moments. It says, we are living death, but on the other hand, we have a lot of joy there, a lot of camaraderie, solidarity between us, we also make fun because you need that, otherwise you cannot survive this place. His material showed this to us. You know, we would open folders or look into memory cards we received from him, and then, all of a sudden there was this re-enacted football game between Mali and Côte D'Ivoire where they each go into a role and play the manager of the team or sports journalist and these kinds of things. And we found them very hilarious! And the next scenes we'd see would be the burning camp which was burned by the police, so it's kind of both of it. Being transmitted into the process of making this film, we took the decision to combine this material with the CCTV material which is for us the material of violence, of this machine, of a cold menacing machine which looks at the people not as people but only as black dots. And then Abou's material is so subjective, it's so personal, and really gives the people a face.

Rees: What was it like when he [Abou] saw the film for the first time?

Wagner: He loved it. He's so fond of the film, you couldn't imagine.  Sometimes, people in the audience, ask, "well, does it kind of represent it well?" He is the biggest fan himself. (Laughter) At the same time, I think it produces all kinds of deeper, maybe, tough feelings. But 

because he made it, there's this element of joy and passion.

Siebert: Yes, I also think it's a very emotional thing for Abou to watch that film. I mean, he sees his friends from that time. Some of them have not made it, some of them have made it, some of them even died during the course of trying to get into Europe. So I think it's an extremely emotional thing to watch this.

Rees: What do you hope that audiences take away from this film? 

Siebert: I think on one level, on the most obvious level, the film gives some insight into a world that into life of people that, here in Europe at least, people hear a lot about but rarely get so close to. And that has to do with Abou's camera but maybe on a further level, hopefully people will take these men -- migrants -- not only as figures and numbers but as individuals that have their own voice.

Wagner: We hope to give a face to people who all too often are just numbers or are just, as we see in the CCTV footage, are just black dots on the screen. They’re nothing more than that very often. And we want to give that a soul in a way and transmit that.