“We are human, we are not animals, why can’t we cross the border?”
These words, spoken by a refugee standing at the barbed wire fence now separating Greece and Macedonia featured in the documentary Trapped, echo the sentiments of thousands of migrants around the world as nations have begun closing off their borders at a rate not yet seen in modern history. With the emergence of powerful populist movements worldwide, it doesn’t seem like the trend will end anytime soon. Increased global connectivity paired with growing nationalist sentiment has created a volatile international atmosphere in which foreigners have been painted as threats to internal stability, and the only way to protect a nation’s sovereignty is to keep them out.
It is no surprise then that this flourishing phenomenon of wall-building was the focus of two winning projects featured in this year’s World Press Photo digital storytelling contest. The two productions, The Washington Post’s Raising Barriers and director Nicos Pilos’ Trapped, examine the on-the-ground effects of border fences, and how these structures overhaul the development of an interconnected global community.
Graphic from Raising Barriers, 1st Prize, Innovative Storytelling, World Press Photo
These works are effective in their ingenuity and relevance to today’s political climate, but perhaps what makes them most compelling is the medium they utilize. World Press Photo introduced their multimedia competition in 2011 (recently renamed digital storytelling). Since then, it has evolved into a prestigious competition honoring a new and innovative form of journalism. Each winning project has exemplified the creativity of the emerging technology and the growing importance of multimedia journalism in an increasingly digital age. A New Age of Walls and Trapped are no exception. Hinged on controversial policy that dehumanizes the “other”, the digital component of the projects was a powerful tool that the directors used to their advantage.
Film Stills from Raising Barriers
Raising Barriers, which won first prize in the innovative storytelling category, opens its first chapter by discussing the politics of wall-building, but quickly delves into on-the-ground stories of people actually trapped at these walls. The interactive web experience is interspersed with interviews with citizens from eight countries across three different continents, including both those in opposition to and those supporting the barriers. While the informational text lays the groundwork for the politics, the interviews come perfectly timed to remind the viewer of the real world effects.
Image from Trapped, Second Prize, Short Form, World Press Photo
Trapped, while employing a more traditional visual journalism style, offers a similar result. The claustrophobic black and white footage presents a bleak view of migrants and refugees in Greece attempting to cross over into Macedonia, whose government has implemented a policy only allowing Iraqi and Syrian refugees to enter. While the narrative is driven by powerful soundbites from the migrants and refugees, its most effective scenes are those in which the camera is forgotten as the camp erupts into chaos. Like Raising Barriers, it is these moments where the viewer is face to face with the people themselves that create the most humanizing connections.
In a world of deepening divisions, it is no wonder these two projects were so well received. The interactive approach goes beyond what traditional photography and filmmaking allow, giving the viewer insight on an issue at a more intimate level. With increased recognition from established organizations like World Press Photo, I hope these projects and others like them will encourage a more understanding world.