Fernand Melgar • Director
by Sergio Ríos Pérez
29/11/2011 - Illegal immigration is a subject close to the heart of Swiss director Fernand Melgar, who made the documentary Special Flight [trailer], which was presented in August at Locarno and screened in competition last week at the 49th Gijón International Film Festival. Melgar was born in 1961 and when he was barely two years old, he and his parents emigrated as illegal immigrants to Switzerland from Tangiers, where in turn his grandparents, who originated from Ronda, had moved in search of a better future. “Migration is something that has occurred since the beginning of humankind”, pointed out Melgar, “only now a series of political groups have, through telling lies, made it seem like the number one problem of the Swiss people”.
Special Flight certainly deals with a sensitive subject, that is detention centres for illegal immigrants, where people end up whose only crime is not having legalised their situation. It’s hardly surprising that the film has been surrounded by controversy from the start, although the first controversy arose in a completely unexpected way: Portuguese producer Paulo Branco described it as “fascist” at Locarno. This judgement is difficult to understand on seeing the documentary and listening to the director, who is unequivocal in his views on immigration without seeking to colour the whole film with his opinions. “Viewers have to be able to think for themselves. In its social function, it is important for a documentary to inform and show what is happening”, he emphasised.
“Nowadays, there is a hidden war against illegal immigration in Europe. In many countries, it has been elevated to the category of a crime. Europe is closing its borders, to the point of becoming a prison, as much for the guards as for the detainees”, denounced Melgar. “These times remind me of the 1930s in Europe. For example, in Switzerland, an immigrant, and not even an illegal immigrant, is represented by a political party as a rat or black sheep. In this country, the cradle of human rights and home of the Geneva Convention, in the streets we openly represent human beings as rats”, he added.
However, it is not all doom and gloom in Switzerland: “It is a paradoxical country, because it can give rise to the system I show in the film, but at the same time it has a great capacity for self-criticism. I was the first filmmaker to gain access to a detention centre in Europe and the Swiss government financed a third part of the film”. According to Melgar, the reason behind this lies in a feature of the Swiss political system: direct democracy. “All the laws are voted by the people, not by a parliament. Special Flight is part of this direct democracy, its style is direct cinema. We must inform people about the consequences of the vote they passed in 1994, when illegal immigrants were criminalised”, he emphasised.
For the future, Melgar is working on a web documentary: “We documentary directors must occupy this new space that is the Internet. With today’s technology, it can be watched around the world with HD quality and, above all, it enables access to additional information, like for example what has happened to the protagonists or giving information about the Swiss and European issue”. However, as it is an almost unexplored medium, “it is quite difficult; it involves building several levels in a new language of communication. You have to think about a form of non-linear narration. I don’t know if it will turn out well, but it’s important to try it, because it represents the future of communication”.