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Souvenir from Switzerland

About this film

2015 - the year which would put Europe on the brink of an identity crisis. Over a Million of refugees arrived from war-torn countries and sought refugee on the European continent. But were Europeans willing to accommodate them? Primarily populist media across Europe started a campaign against refugees. But what we know today is a refugee crisis from our perspective, a European perspective, and a perspective that focused entirely on the mass, the so-called “invasion. Yet what was missing in those debates was often the individual.

Sorayos Prapapan, a filmmaker from Thailand, changes this with his short film. Having been invited to a film festival in Switzerland, he meets a filmmaker friend who had left Afghanistan in order to seek asylum in Switzerland. What starts of as a casual discussion of Prapapan’s festival trip with a good friend of his back in Thailand, turns into a melancholic description of his Afghan friend’s plight.

Set against almost clichéd images of Switzerland, Prapapan reveals a different perspective on the European refugee crisis, opening our eyes to individual breaking points and the global dimensions of this. Prapapan’s voice-over gives the film an impartial feel. There is no identification with a protagonist, allowing for the generation of a universal narrative of escape and refuge.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Sorayos, I was quite touched by your film even though it was so minimalist and you didn’t transmit any feelings in your film. It was a simple voice-over telling, quite bluntly, the story of an Afghan refugee. Why did you approach your film in such a way?

First of all, thank you for your comment about my film. Actually, it was just my kind of diary or a souvenir to myself. So I prefer it to be in a very normal tone of conversation and not too dramatic or too romanticised. And yeah, I like minimalist films and my company is called “Minimal Animal”.

I think what’s striking in your film is the absence of the actual protagonist. Your film is not about your trip to Switzerland as such, even though it is part of it. But it leads to a deeper story. We know that you met your filmmaker friend from Afghanistan. Why did you decide not to show him?

The very sincere answer is that at the time I didn’t even know why he lived in Switzerland. I met him and learned only later that he had lived there in a refugee camp because he got into some trouble for revealing some bad things about the government. We spent one afternoon together, just walked and talked. Later I felt that this story could be turned into a film. So I shot a few scenes in Switzerland and recorded my conversation later when I was back in Bangkok. I think without our faces, the story feels as if it belongs to everyone and not only to him and myself. This kind of thing can happen to anyone in the world who lives in a country which lacks freedom of expression.

Yes, this is the case in a lot of countries at the moment. One reason why people flee. What is the situation like in Thailand at the moment?

Ohhh, Thailand is one of the countries with the least freedom of expression. Many activist and political academics are still wanted by our military government. Many of them moved to better countries but some are being controlled and have to stay in military camps and some, which is even worse, went missing. I feel lucky for those who have moved. To be a refugee is not always easy but it is better than ending up here in jail just because they talk negatively about those in power. If you follow political news from Thailand you know who I’m talking about. Thailand has its own Lord Voldemort.

It’s interesting that one doesn’t even see yourself in the film. A Souvenir is dominated entirely by the voice. Is this specific one can find in all your films?

No, it’s only in this one. But I liked the idea that the sound would come from outside of the frame. It makes the audience more interested in the actual space of the scene. One more thing, if I did appear in the frame, it would be some kind of selfie diary which wouldn’t fit this film. But perhaps I’ll do it in my next film.

Before my last question, I’d like to hear from you how you made it into film. Is that something you have always wanted to do?

Yes, I started filmmaking at 19. I have many stories to tell. Sometimes it’s not even a story but an atmosphere or just a record of reality. Some ideas just come from things that happen in your life, but you don’t want to skip it. You want to share it or explore the topic more.

Have you had any news from your friend since you made the film?

The last time we met was at the Fribourg International Film Festival in 2015. He came to the premiere of the film (A souvenir…). At that time he was still waiting for his long term visa but later he asked me for information (festival and awards) about this film to send it to the UNHCR. Now he and his family have a long term visa and stay in Bern. He got a job at small production company and tries to study for a Master in Zürich.