(They Teach Us How To Be Happy)
Dir: Peter von Gunten
155 min., 16mm, 1:1.66, Color
Produktion: Cinov AG Bern. Buch: Peter von Gunten. Regie-Assistenz und inhaltliche Begleitung: Heidi Rieder. Kamera und Schnitt: Peter von Gunten. Ton und Mischung: Peter von Gunten. Ton: Andreas Litmanowitsch, Remo Belli, Attila Boa, Andreas Schneuwly. Filmmusik: Simsimiyya Ensemble, Abu Simbel Ensemble. Mitwirkende: Vier sudanesische Familien, Marcel Marcus, Peter und Heidi Zuber, Schweizerinnen und Schweizer u.v.a.
Uraufführung: 16. August 1996, Locarno Film Festival.
Weltvertrieb: CINOV AG Filmproduktion, Gerberngasse 27, Postfach 107, CH-3000 Bern 13, Tel./Fax: (41-31) 311 40 39.
Thu 20.02. 12:00 Akademie der Künste Sat 22.02. 16:00 Delphi Sun 23.02. 21:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Mon 24.02. 14:30 Arsenal
After a few months of establishing the first, tenuous contacts with refugees from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe, a first meeting took place between the Sudanese families and the film team. After this conversation we decided to dare it and make this film together. The first scenes were already filmed an hour later.
The relationship between the four families and the film team developed from difficult and cautious beginnings to strong mutual trust and respect between partners.
The film shows the difficult, troublesome journey through the Swiss asylum procedure which comes across as the ultimate psychological endurance test. We witness the incapacitation process during the interviews, the strain of living in camps, discreetly called refugee centres, we share in the private fears and distress of the refugees. We also witness the hopeful attempt to transcend the status of ,refugee' and to remain a ,human being', even if circumstances make it appear as if men and women are no more than numbers in the central computer, one of 480 000 finger prints in a data base.
Peter von Gunten was aware of the great risk this film posed to the refugees. And what it meant to have a contract with the Federal Bureau for Refugees which stipulated that their decision (rejection of the refugee status application, deportation) would be taken independently of the film.
For this reason alone the search for participants took months. The author searched for refugees who might have a right to remain in Switzerland according to the ,UNO Declaration of Human Rights'. He would have to make a personal assessment in the first hour of each meeting. Part of the great risk taken by all participants was the fact that the author's evaluations didn't necessarily match the decisions of the Federal Bureau. It also became clear that the author's decision resulted in an unspoken moral commitment on his and his film crew's side which went far beyond the task of film making.
"We, our state, all persons involved in the process, the care givers in the centres, we all make an enormous effort to be ,nice' and ,correct' to the refugees. However, by doing so we hush up the fact that we are completely overtaxed. Our asylum procedures are based on the necessity to come to the conclusion - using all the means at our disposal - that an individual does not have the right to asylum. The goal is not to investigate whether an individual has a right to asylum. In the first instance, asy-lum seekers are considered cheaters, liars or gamblers who are only interested in tricking us.áThe losers are those who deserve to get asylum, whom we should respect and protect. Those who have to suffer for the rest of their lives because of violations to their human rights, who live with the consequences of persecution, torture, prison: those we often called ,real' refugees!" (Peter von Gunten).
When Peter Arbenz, then director of the Federal Bureau for Refugees, evaluated the film project in order to decide whether to grant a filming licence he issued it with the words: "I think we have to venture this."
In September 1988 the University of Bern instituted a three-year video project with the goal of producing videos which were to present research projects intelligibly to a wider audience.
One to three videos per year were supposed to be realized with the eventual goal of extending the department into a modest university television station. Neither the staffing possibilities nor the financial means were adequate to the task. At the end of 1990, a new concept was developed.
In cooperation with Peter von Gunten a new concept and framework were created in 1991, based on the notion that single research projects can provide the theoretical and practical foundations for the development of film and video projects. The first project was Peter von Gunten's exposé ,Switzerland's Way'.
Cinov Film Production then created the preconditions for production. The theoretical and practical cooperation with the University of Bern resulted in the film THEY TEACH US HOW TO BE HAPPY, now realized as an independent author's film.
A further project with the same production preconditions is in preparation.
A state has the right to grant asylum to an individual and the persecuting state has to accept that one of its citizens will be granted asylum in another state. It is not permitted to go against the decision of the state granting asylum and seize the individual.
Based on national sovereignty, each state has the right to receive or reject refugees according to its own discretion. This means in effect that a refugee basically has the possibility to find a safe haven and that s/he could achieve a privileged legal position.
No individual can claim the right, however, to be granted asylum according to international law. This right is not considered a human right. Article 14.1. of the ,General Declaration of Human Rights' of the United Nations purposely guarantees only the right ,to escape persecution and search for asylum' and -once granted- to ,enjoy' refugee status, not, however, to claim a right to it.
At any rate, refugees have certain rights according to the European Convention for Human Rights (...) due to the expulsion ban (Rückschiebeverbot). This law is applied when murder, torture or a particularly grave injury of human rights is to be expected. According to international law refugees thus have the right to expect to be protected from the persecuting state and not to have to return against their will.
The host country reserves the right, however, to define and evaluate the criteria by which refugees are granted refugee status. The criteria differ greatly as is evident in the various legal decisions as well as in the contradictory criteria applied by Swiss bureaucracy and relief orga-nizations. In contrast to the judgement of relief agencies, our bureaucracy often considers a refugee's return to his/her native country as no violation of international law.
One example is the case of a single, handicapped Coptic Christian woman who is looked after by her family here in Switzerland. Swiss bureaucracy considers her depor-tation back to Sudan as unproblematic according to international law. This decision was taken, despite the statement of an influential witness from the woman's native country who recommended: ,... the person con-cerned is surely no political refugee. But because she is single and handicapped, has no family ties in Sudan and is dependant on care given by members of her family, her deportation would mean her certain death due to social reasons. As a handicapped, single Christian she couldn't survive in contemporary society in Sudan.' (Example from the film)
From discussions in pubs to debates in parliament, people quote statistics and make fiery claims as if the topic ,Political Asylum' were no different from the subject of milk quotas or rampant diseases. Numbers and theories seduce us into distance and loss of truth and turn perception of reality upside down. Peter von Gunten reestablishes the asylum debate which had been displaced by party-political discussions and bureaucratic machi-nery. The human being and his/her personal distress are the focus of attention in Peter von Gunten's latest film, while he never loses sight of the bureaucratic machinery. He makes us aware that systems, constructed by human beings, ought to serve human beings and their dignity exclusively. (...) Robert Richter, in: Zoom, Nr. 8, Zürich 1996
(...) "The Third World has come to us. That is the topic of my latest film", says Peter von Gunten. In terms of intervening in cultural matters, his approach to his Latin American documentaries had been much more restrained. In Switzerland, on the other hand, where features such as Kleine frieren auch im Sommer/Little Ones are Cold in Summer, too and Pestalozzi's Mountain were produced, he had been able to indulge in his fondness for playful forms. (...) He sees film as an element of society, but also acknowledges that society itself is changing. "At this point we are in a state of ,crisis'. Socio-critical films are a luxury - people are only interested in seeing them if they are in good shape themselves." Von Gunten's aim is to provide points of discussion with his films: "That's what I do in politics, too. Except there, the access route is much more direct." Matthias Lerf, in: Berner Zeitung / Locarno Extra 1996
Peter von Gunten was born in Bern in 1941. He became a graphic designer and photographer. Since 1969 he has been working as author, director, cameraman and producer of short films, documentaries and feature films.
1967-70: Blumengedicht; Die Vorstellung; Im schönsten Wiesengrunde; Mein persönlicher Beitrag zur Aktion Gesundes Volk; 21 Schweizer Künstler. 1971: Bananera-Libertad (Forum 1971). 1974: Die Auslieferung (Forum 1974). 1976: El grito del pueblo. 1978: Kleine frieren auch im Sommer. 1980: Terra Roubada - Geraubte Erde. 1982: Bis das Leben uns scheidet: Barbaras Briefe. 1983: Bis das Leben uns scheidet: Rogers Geschichte. 1986: Vozes da Alma - Stimmen der Seele. 1989: Pestalozzis Berg. 1992: Terra Prometida - Gelobtes Land (Forum 1993). 1996: THEY TEACH US HOW TO BE HAPPY - LERNEN GLÜCKLICH ZU SEIN.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.