Director: Hassan Fazili
Runtime: 87 minutes
Hassan Fazili, his wife, Fatima Hussaini, and their two young daughters, Nargis and Zahra, fled Afghanistan in 2015 to Tajikistan when the family learned that the Taliban had put a price on his head. There, they filed for asylum in 14 different countries. All filings were denied. Forced to leave Tajikistan, they began heading back to Afghanistan, but faced with almost certain capture and assassination, they opted to flee to the European Union instead via illegal smuggling routes. Fazili and his wife are both filmmakers – in fact it was a film Fazili made in 2015 that earned him the Taliban’s distain in the first place. So as he and his family travel, he films their lives. Midnight Traveler is the film he assembled from that footage.
The Fazili family journey takes them through more countries than I could count throughout more than 18-months . The days and stops are chronicled on screen as we jump from place to place in chronological order. We see how the journey wears on the family. We see, too, how they hold on to hope, how they cope, and how they even find moments of true happiness as a family along the way.
Those moments of terror and happiness explode like fireworks in an otherwise bleak sky. The overwhelming feeling Midnight Traveler leaves you with is monotony. The Fazili’s lives during this period consist of so much waiting. It’s one thing to face visible enemies throwing rocks at you or hitting you while you walk down the street in Bulgaria, as happens to the family, but it’s another thing entirely to face the daily bureaucratic process that is struggling to deal with the flood of refugees and immigrants seeking shelter from the on-gong conflicts in the Muslim world. The courage of the Fazili children is never more evident, I think, than when they are making play places out of gravel holding cells or dancing to Michael Jackson in their home that is smaller than my second bedroom closet.
There are many films about the current refugee crisis. (I recommend Human Flow especially) But I’ve not seen a documentary quite as intimate as this one. Because these are home movies, the family is more casual and unguarded than they would have been had a documentary crew been following them. Fazili and his wife are both filmmakers, so they have filmmakers’ eyes. They catch moments of true “cinematic” beauty, but these moments stand out as grace notes to an otherwise harsh existence.
Fazili is aware of his compulsion in making this film. He questions his motives but his camera becomes a source of hope. He kept filming because he believed that one day the footage could become an actual film – and a testament to the utter despair faced by so many refugees. And while he may, at times, detest his compulsion, Midnight Traveler remains committed to a future he and his family can’t yet see but believe is within grasp.
Written by-Elijah Davidson