TIME magazine produced their first feature documentary with ‘Paradise Without People‘, in which we follow two Syrian women, at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, with the same dream: to raise their children away from war. Directed by Emmy-nominated journalist Francesca Trianni, the film takes unexpected turns while we get a glimpse at the lives of two families dealing with parenthood while seeking asylum.

From the very opening of this documentary, with Taimaa and Mohannad discussing what they should name their new born daughter, you get pulled into a very personal and heartfelt decision. Although dad has an old name in mind, mom gets to decide and goes for a modern name, Heln. A beautiful moment gets interrupted when Taimaa expresses her worries about going back to their suffocating life at the refugee camp in Greece, where they (and thousands of others) have been awaiting resettlement ever since fleeing war-torn Syria.

Nour and Yousef, another couple who are expected to welcome daughter Rahaf any moment now, somewhat seem to deal with the situation a lot better. The support from other women in the camp is overwhelming and shows how important community is, even when stranding in a total alien environment with no way of knowing what will happen in the near future.

As another season passes and leaves are falling from the trees, we find out that Taimaa’s marriage is being put to the test as she tries to stay strong and share her frustrations with friend Abeer. ‘Paradise Without People‘ isn’t just an interesting look into the daily life of a refugee camp, it’s tragic and frustrating knowing there’s entire communities that are struggling to keep their head above water. How easy life may have been in their home country, the constant stress and uncertainties test even the strongest of minds. “After being in Greece for the last 14 months, every day passes like a year“, says Taimaa. “You can’t know the privilege of stability until it’s taken from you.

Syria as these families used to know is no longer. Via WhatsApp, social media and other communication, family who have stayed behind share daily updates on bombings and entire streets being destroyed, while there’s no way of checking if news articles on Facebook are based on facts, or if the given information has been tampered with by ISIS. Winter rolls in and so both families get “upgraded” to hotel rooms across Greece, to stay warm. Although Nour and Yousef have a genuinely sweet moment in the snow, he later shares his horrific confrontation with the terrorist group who punished him with 30 lashes, for smoking a cigarette.

The constant ups and downs are heavy to witness, and the clearly different attitudes of these two families become more and more clear while time passes by. Marital struggles and health issues rise in one family that seems to drift further and further apart, while the other family tries to keep their hopes up high when asylum is right around the corner. The integration of these war refugees will test both families in different ways and will require efforts by all parties concerned.

Trianni does a phenomenal job at balancing both stories, handling them with much needed respect while sharing the good and the bad moments. Where last year’s Syria-centered Oscar nominated documentary ‘For Sama‘ told the story of a woman right in the middle of the war, ‘Paradise Without People‘ feels like a natural continuation of that story, focusing on what happens after your home gets taken away from you. Both traumatic and heartwarming, Trianni’s film makes you hope for a better future for these powerful women.

Paradise Without People‘ is without a doubt one of the more stronger documentaries in recent history, being able to break your heart and stitch it back together over and over again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Paradise Without People‘ will screen as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival from 30 June 2020.

Tickets are available HERE


Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘Paradise Without People’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Melbourne Documentary Film Festival), June 28, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 80 min.

PRODUCTION: A TIME production. Producers: Lynsey Addario, Aryn Baker, Francesca Trianni. Executive producers: Edward Felsenthal, Ian Orefice, Jonathan D. Woods.

CREW: Director/camera: Francesca Trianni. Editor: Loulwa Khoury. Music: Max Avery Lichtenstein.

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