top of page

68th Berlinale film festival shows a different part of refugees’ journey.


In 2015, with Germany facing turmoil after flinging its doors open to a million refugees, Berlin re-purposed a defunct airport to house them, creating an ad hoc village that is the setting for a film to premier at the Berlinale film festival.

Built by forced labor on the orders of Adolf Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, Tempelhof Airport is a mirror of its city’s history, serving as West Berlin’s lifeline during the 1948 Soviet blockade.

The airport was closed in 2008 and its runways were turned into a garden the size of New York’s Central Park for a now united city.

Its hangars, the setting for the documentary “Central Airport THF”, in 2015 became an emergency shelter for more than two thousand of the million-odd people who came to Germany, fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa.

The film, by Brazilian director Karim Ainouz, documents the life of the airport’s new residents, drawing a parallel the lives of Berliners in the vast adjacent park, contrasting refugees with hipsters on kite skates, joggers and picnicking families.

“There was a contrast there that I thought was really important to document,” said Ainouz, who said he wanted to show the lives of refugees through a more personal lens than was then common.

Ibrahim Al Hussein, a Syrian from Aleppo, had just turned 18 when he arrived at the airport and had to live in the hastily built shelter for more than a year where Ainouz met him.

Qutaiba Nafea, another of Ainouz’s subjects, is a 38-year-old Iraqi refugee who was studying to be a doctor in his home country but found himself working as a translator at the shelter health center.

“It was like a life blog for me, I was filming my daily life here,” said Al Hussein.

Al Hussein’s monologues and his depictions of daily life at the shelter reflect the uncertainty, the homesickness and the hope for a new future which overshadows refugees’ lives while waiting for their asylum applications.

Perhaps inspired by his experience, the young protagonist, who now works at a cinema himself and is an aspiring film editor said: “People from all around the world will come and watch the film and get an idea about our life at the airport.”

The festival devoted its program to refugees and migration in 2016 when it coincided with the peak of Europe’s migrant crisis. This year’s 68th edition will show a different part of refugees’ journey.

“It’s much more that you now look at what refugees are doing after they arrived in our Europe. What is their future?” said Dieter Kosslick, the festival’s director.

bottom of page