AVFF Day 4

Every year, thousands of migrants attempt the perilous journey from Africa to Europe. After crossing the Sahara they climb the border fences of Morocco to reach Spain’s coastal enclaves, or pay smugglers to ferry them in ramshackle boats from Tunisia and Lybia across the Mediterranean to Sicily and beyond. Fines, imprisonment and the occasional beatings are the best response the powers that be can muster to their glaring human plight. Concerned by the large numbers of refugees who routinely drown at sea off Europe’s coasts, civilians across southern Europe take the initiative to help the refugees, Challenging their own punitive governments, these warriors draw penalties to themselves.

“Solidarity Crime” documents an array of individuals willing to look beyond national and racial divides and take risks for others; from a Spanish catholic priest speaking out against the brutal treatment of refugees in Morocco, to activists meeting boats at sea, to the residents of a near-deserted south Italian village which has welcomed the newcomers into their abundant empty housing. As politicians focus on the legality of the travellers’ status, one migrant soberly explains their situation. For the few who do complete the journey into Europe after working temporary jobs in North Africa to pay the smugglers, there is no legal inclusion on the other side but only years of hard labour on European farms, without the prospect of social acceptance.

Meanwhile, on Europe’s other end, a different drama is unfolding. “Judges Under Pressure” follows the lives of members of Poland’s jurists. Three decades after their country’s liberation from Communism, these members of the judiciary serve as citizens’ strongest line of defence against police repression, yet are completely alone in their verdicts and vulnerable to slander and intimidation.

When a new government determined to consolidate power enacts a Muzzle Law, establishing a disciplinary chamber to bring its judges’ verdicts in line with their own policies, the jurists resist. It can be all too easy for those in positions of power to cave in to harassment of their family members or to the threat of losing their immunity and being locked out of the courtrooms. Yet these judges stand their ground, making the case that such policies contradict Poland’s constitution as well as EU law. They strive to continue to be present for those protesters risking arrest as they march against new restrictive legislation, refusing to see their country once again collapse into dictatorship.

Whether it is solidarity on the streets and at sea for those less priveleged, or work in the courtrooms to defend constitutional rights, Europeans are on the move to defend their ideals of freedom and compassion as evidenced in these two international documentaries. It is a struggle with no end in sight, but the outcomes will surely determine the continent’s prospects for human unity and progress.