In 2012, George Kurian was ducking bullets in Syria while buildings around him were being reduced to rubble. Kurian considered himself a photojournalist “partial to stories that affirm life” rather than a war journalist. But being in Syria showed him how “every conflict is hydra-headed.” Regardless of its initial impetus, “the ensuing violence creates new enmities, tensions and reasons for continued conflict. I wanted to see, understand and document it.”

His experiences in the battlefield drew him into the same trajectory as the billowing waves of Syrians escaping persecution and their country’s destruction. Thus, he spent the last year tracking the experiences of a small group of refugees as they travelled to Europe. His film “The Crossing” (represented below with a short promo) chronicles the hardships of the sea journey from Alexandria across the Mediterranean (a three-day journey that can take eight), rescue by a freighter granting the passengers safe haven to Genoa and the difficulties of assimilating to new lives in Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.

“‘The Crossing,’” Kurian says, “is about Syrian people speaking for themselves. Through it, we hope to join the debate about our electoral policies…Islam and its branches of fundamentalism will always serve as flashpoints in any discussion…[but] it’s these ideas that have kept us from acting. These concepts make us see refugees as a problem rather than a people who have a problem and who need our help.”

(Promo from: The Crossing. Boat Footage: Rami Aramouni

One of Kurian’s film subjects, Rami—who filmed the group’s sea journey to help “the world understand that these people are not trying to flee to have a better life; they are trying just to have a life”—asks “what is it that Syrians want from themselves and from others? It’s not just food and shelter that a refugee needs,” he says, “what a refugee needs is to be found.”

Other subjects include Nabil, one of the Middle’s East’s finest oud players; Angela, a TV journalist; Kutouf, a psychologist—all middle-class, educated Syrians who shared their fears and motivations with Kurian. They tell us why, having lost their livelihoods and sometimes the lives of family members, they would risk their own lives, and those of their children in the hope of something better than what was left behind.

After suffering intense deprivation, exposure and seasickness, the refugees reach Europe. Despite the hardships the experience there, they are, in the words of Aifa, “at the end of an era. The era of waiting for nothing. The era of losing time. The era of losing your life.” The woman, also a mother, spoke to Kurian while preparing for another round of asylum interviews. Despite the long road ahead, she affirmed, “I want to stop waiting for nothing and start to do something for me and my son.”

—Doreen Schmid

Editors’ Note: ”
The Crossing” will screen in Europe and in the U.S. in 2016.