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About the film

Short synopsis // Long synopsis // The story behind //

Short Synopsis

In a village in Egypt, young men dream of migrating to Europe where they hope to realise all the good things they lack at home: money, freedom, new horizons. In Vienna, Egyptian migrants long back home. Their tales of migration reveal that the realities of living in Europe are more complex and nuanced than they themselves might have dreamt of. Paradise, both sides of this fictional dialogue tell, is always elsewhere. And perhaps happiness lies not in making old dreams come true, but in finding new ones.

Long Synopsis

The grass is always greener on the other side, or so the well-known saying claims. In Messages from Paradise #1, the first part of a trilogy, this maxim is articulated by a young Egyptian on a rural rooftop, his horizon defined by raw brick houses, piles of hay, and satellite dishes. He seeks advice from migrants abroad, and is offered a response from the lush gardens of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg's imperial family. There, speaking beside the meticulous flower beds, an older Egyptian migrant identifies with this youth's longing to travel but also cautions that Europe is not really the place that people imagine it to be.

In Messages from Paradise, four young Egyptian men, all of them born and raised in the same small village in the Nile Delta, speak of their dreams of migrating to Europe, where one is assumed to obtain freedom, financial gain, and self-realization. Some of them pragmatic planners and others philosophical dreamers, they all aspire to escape the suffocating frustrations they deem intrinsic to life in Egypt. Each believes that traveling to Europe would help them to a better life.

The camera then takes us to the other side of the fence, where we meet nine Egyptians living in Austria who share their personal experiences with migration. Some settled in Vienna for good and others eager to meet their goals and move on; they include a student, a taxi driver, a former boxer, a dancer and cook, a rose peddler, a tile artist, and an intellectual who insists on speaking in German.

These migrants tell of their impetus to travel abroad, describe what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of life in Europe, and share their nostalgia for their homeland. In telling their tales of migration, they reveal that the realities of living in Europe are more complex and nuanced than they themselves might have dreamt of before they originally left home. Few have found the trick of how to settle without being split: Leaving the old dreams aside and finding new and unexpected ones.

The Story Behind

Daniela Swarowsky is an Austrian artist and cultural producer working in Rotterdam. Since 2003, she has been focussing on migration in a range of art-, film- and video projects. Samuli Schielke is a Finnish anthropologist currently working on contemporary Egypt at ZMO (Zentrum Moderner Orient) in Berlin. They currently live and work in Rotterdam and Berlin. This film is their first one, and a consequent continuation of their previous projects that engage with questions of migration, identity, and the idea of home.

The idea for this film emerged when we were for the first time together in Egypt, where Samuli has been conducting ethnographic research since many years. Arriving in Egypt, Daniela was struck by the massive presence of the urgent desire to migrate most people we encountered expressed. But this desire appeared very strange in the light of a chance encounter with an Egyptian taxi driver she met on her way to the airport in Vienna. The taxi driver, hearing that she was going to Egypt, declared that coming to Europe had been the worst decision in his life. Europe as a paradise young people aspired for, and Egypt as a paradise migrants longed back for - How could these two imaginations be so far apart? Daniela wanted to go after the myths which migrants, returning home on holiday, create about their lives abroad. Samuli, in turn, wanted to look at the dreams and frustrations that young people in Egypt and many other places around the world project to the prospect of migration. From these shared concerns and discussions emerged Messages from Paradise #1, the first part of a trilogy in progress conceived of and produced by Daniela. (Part two, a video installation between Moroccan youths in the Netherlands and Morocco is in production at the time of writing this, part three is being planned.)

The core idea of this trilogy is based on Daniela's observation that migrants, when they return home on an annual vacation, often give an image of their life that is very far from their lived reality. At the same time, they glorify their homelands more and more. And even if they sincerely try to give a truthful image of their experience, young people at home are either not interested, or do not believe. The problem is that it is very difficult to tell how it is to be a migrant to people who do not know it from first-hand experience.

Messages from Paradise is an attempt to create a fictional dialogue where a real one is missing, an indirect confrontation about dreams, frustrations, and hopes of people in different places around the world.

This fictive dialogue has shaped both the making and the form of this film. We began with preliminary interviews in Vienna in summer 2007, then conducted a set of interviews in Egypt in October and November 2007. In these interviews we always asked people to formulate questions to the Egyptians abroad. Two of these questions, by Basim and Mukhtar, also appear in the film. Back in Europe, we returned to film in Austria in August and September 2008, and used the questions and themes that we had collected in Egypt in the interviews we made with the Egyptians in Vienna. Finally, in December 2008, we toured Egypt with a raw edit of the film, and used the feedback we got during the screenings to create this final version.

The film, like every story, presents a specific group of people: Those in Egypt all come from the countryside and while they are all well educated, their prospects in Egypt are limited. Those in Austria have all, with the exception of one, arrived as migrant workers. There are other, wealthier Egyptians for whom migration is not an urgent necessity and Europe not a fortress. But this is not their story. More importantly, this is not a film about Egypt or about Austria. The story is a universal one, known by people in similar situations around the world. Finally, this is a film almost only about men. This was not originally intended. But Egyptian women were often less enthusiastic about appearing in a film, and we also had to discard some good interviews because of technical problems. So this became the men's story. The women's story is yet to be told...

Intro // Trailer // About the film // Songtexts // Credits // Stills // Press // Screenings // Order // Trilogy Home