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#HotDocs17: 69 Minutes of 86 Days – Egil Håskjold Larsen

In 69 Minutes of 86 Days, Director Egil Håskjold Larsen turns his lens one metre above ground, taking the vantage point of three-year-old girl, Lean, a refugee crossing Europe. The heart-wrenching film will stay with you for days after as you ache for a solution to this horrible situation.

SDTC: How did you find Lean?

EHL: Almost like we “find” her in the film, we found Lean at the Greek island of Kos. She was an energetic and playful child who really stood out from the crowd.

We had already decided we wanted to follow and see the refugee journey from a child’s perspective. So we went to Greece to find someone that could bring this story to life. Children have unique abilities as storytellers, as they meet the world with an open mind and without the knowledge and pre-shaped baggage of ideas of how we are suppose to read and judge everything around us.

I think adults could learn a lot from that mentality. Children do not take cultural background, religion or skin colour into account when meeting you. Lean was exactly this kind of girl. She was very unafraid and welcoming to us, so we quickly became friends. Lean is unique in her ordinariness and like all children.

What do you want viewers to take away from this film?

As mentioned above, I think we can learn something from the mentality of a child. To get beyond how the world has taught us to see “the others” and people we have not had a chance to get to know yet. And to have an open mind to the things we don’t know.

I hope we as adults and as role models for our own children can be reminded of our responsibility to present a world to our children that is safe, loving and caring. And to remember that this normally is the goal for all parents. There are so many innocent children suffering because of the injustice and inequality in this world. To change this, we have to start with our own mentality.

Was it difficult to maintain your composure/distance when you were documenting her journey?

We were very clear and open with the family about our intention and focus with the film. Observing Lean’s journey and viewpoint, we never interacted with them while filming and never asked them to do anything for the sake of the film. We were always just observing. We also made it clear that we were not there to help them and more importantly not to make their journey more difficult. But we quickly became part of the family, and as we spent the entire journey with them it made us very close.

I guess in some cases it was comforting for them to have us around, but in most cases they knew we couldn’t help them, so they didn’t expect anything from us. This balance is always difficult. You become friends and you want to help out. They were extremely helpful and kind to us.

What surprised you the most about this little girl?

We immediately became good friends with Lean. She is really a loving and caring child. But it was amazing to see how caring and well behaved she was throughout the whole journey. She acted really grown up and was always trying to help out as much as she could. We never saw her cry in all those days spent with her. She understood the grave circumstances and the seriousness of the situation, and it seemed she didn’t want to make life harder for her parents and uncles. It is amazing to see this from a three year old. At the same time, she had the ability to find playfulness in all kinds of situations.

I have to admire her adaptability to have this big camera following her all the time. She made my work very easy, being so natural in front of the lens.

How did making this film change you?

With any documentary project, you get to learn a lot and get close to your subjects and theme. This was also the case with this film. We met so many wonderful people in a hopeless situation. You could see how adaptable everyone was, even though the circumstances were very hopeless at times.

People’s ability to help out and care for each other when things become difficult is amazing. Being part of the ambience and hearing so many different kinds of stories and meeting so many different people along the way really makes you hopeful of the human race. But at the same time you feel the horror of this extremely unfair and cruel world.

At the same time we were only observers, and even though we were in the middle of everything, we could never put ourselves in the same situation as those having lost everything, not knowing their future. Setting out on a journey like this really makes you fragile and you are at your most vulnerable. We were always there with our Norwegian passports, so it was impossible for us to understand and put ourselves in their situation.

I am an uncle to a child the same age as Lean, and it was really hard not to picture yourself or your loved ones in the same situation. It was really beautiful to experience this family and their close relations and their ability to adapt to this situation.

Screening Times:
Saturday Apr 29 @ 7:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Sunday Apr 30 @ 12:30 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sunday May 7 @ 3:30 PM Aga Khan Museum

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