Choosing Love in 'Adnan'
Updated: Feb 11
Adnan (Steven Chatterton and Mark Arrigo, 2020)
Young People’s Jury Programme for Cornwall Film Festival 2020
It’s been a couple of months since we announced the winner of the International Shorts for CFF, and I’m still thinking about Adnan. For me, this was THE standout short film from this year’s festival, which is really saying something as there were some strong competitors! Adnan deftly threads moments of isolation, grief, trauma and love into a compassionate window upon the lives of refugees. The narrative and mechanics of storytelling is full of emotional intelligence on a subject which is sadly still so prevalent today.
My immediate reaction after watching Adnan was that ‘EVERYONE should see it’, sirens blaring, lights flashing sort of reaction. In the discussions with other members of the jury I realised that for many people in the western world, the situation that refugees face has only become known to them through often biased and skewed media stories. What is more, whilst there may be some understanding of what many refugees face, with regards to the actualities of fleeing one’s home, friends, neighbourhood and their entire lives, there is almost no recognition of the trauma that refugees are left living with afterwards. This to me is what Adnan so succinctly and beautifully brings to the fore; the post-trauma of two survivors and how they are dealing with the effects of this, or not dealing with it.
The story itself is a relatively simple premise, and this allows the creative talent of the set designers and prop builders to shine through and lend tender poignancy to the narrative. Following their escape from Aleppo, Adnan attempts to emotionally reconnect with his severely traumatised and increasingly distant mother using his creativity. The breath-taking beauty of the scenes and environments which Adnan recreates of their journey to England encourages the viewer to look through a child’s mind and consider how we might try to reach a loved one that is hurting. His youth lies in heart-breaking juxtaposition to the wisdom he possesses and the selflessness he demonstrates. This is in credit to young ‘actor’, Ayham, who had never acted before this role and had himself escaped Aleppo with his family only three years prior. There is a wealth of raw emotion presented on screen by the little boy, particularly in the scene where he razes ‘Aleppo’ to the ground as though he himself were the bombs falling from the skies sent by cold foreign diplomats. However, this display is still not enough to reach his mother emotionally. I particularly liked the fact that it was the lone discovery of his ‘Plan to Save Mother’ notebook that broke through the mother’s seemingly impenetrable grief; she sees the light that her little boy has so desperately been trying to shine upon her. Simultaneously, Adnan begins his own spiral, convinced that she is lost to him and that he has failed her and is now totally alone in the world. The ending provides no false hope and as such does not leave the viewer feeling that the weight of the very real refugee crisis has been lifted due to the ‘happier’ ending. Rather, Chatterton and Arrigo pointedly emphasise the hope that can be found in human connection and kindness, in empathy and in sharing vulnerabilities with trusted loved ones. However, Adnan and his mother are still left hugging alone, clinging to each other in an unfamiliar home in an unfamiliar and grey country, where they know no-one and most likely do not even know the language. This loneliness is borne only in that it is shared and understood by them, but the viewer should not confuse this as an ending that signifies that their lives will now become easier.
Watching this short film in a period of national lockdown whilst the world struggles against a pandemic, we are better suited as viewers to recognise these feelings of loneliness and a fear of being outside. Many people have struggled with lockdown measures that have prevented normal everyday life for almost a year now. What is so absolutely vital, however, when watching films based on real social issues, is that we do not confuse our experiences and try to speak for another person’s lived experience. There has been a great deal of hate and hostility from some members of the public towards refugees coming across borders here into the UK. The total lack of compassion and understanding towards these terrified and highly vulnerable people is something that needs to be addressed and changed. Adnan goes a long way in helping audiences to consider the situations that these people have experienced and the horrors that they have been compelled to escape. We are asked to view refugees not as media buzzwords, but as real people, with real lives carrying real loss. We should be welcoming them and protecting them, as we would hope others would do for us. There can be no place in society for hatred or resentment, neither nationalism, when it is so to the detriment of human beings in need.
Trailer for 'Adnan': https://vimeo.com/426223685
Behind Adnan - Ayham's Journey: https://vimeo.com/386917011
The creator's of 'Adnan' are raising money for their charity partner Choose Love , a wonderful organisation that do fantastic work to help refugees with necessities, basic care supplies and food. If you are able, please make a donation on their website at this address: https://donate.helprefugees.org/campaigns/adnan-supports-choose-love/
All photos and links are property of www.adnanshortfilm.com