by writer/director Ben Sharrock
The journey to creating Limbo started out with a strong personal desire to make a film that approaches the subject of the ‘refugee crisis’ by focusing on the individual human experience of a Syrian asylum seeker. From the beginning, the script was shaped with the style in mind and the desire to use humour as an unexpected approach to this serious topic but importantly, I didn’t want the film to be dictated by stylistic elements.
The interest in the subject stems back to my time living in Syria as part of my undergraduate degree in Arabic and Politics. I spent time living and studying in Damascus the year before the civil war started. I tried to integrate into society so I joined the Damascus rugby team and participated in a local theatre. In Arabic, a simple mispronunciation of a single letter can totally change the meaning of what you want to say which can make life hard for a beginner, but somehow, I still managed to come away with some friends.
When I returned from Syria for my final year at university I started to specialise in Middle Eastern Cinema and opted to write my dissertation on Arab and Muslim representations in Western Cinema and TV. I think this played a role in my response to broad media representations of refugees in the years that followed. Some of my friends from Syria have since become refugees, but I felt like in the UK and across Europe we were witnessing a process of dehumanisation at both ends of the spectrum. On one side there was demonisation and on the other side there was the pitying of refugees which is equally dehumanising. Around this time, producer Irune Gurtubai and I travelled to the refugee camps in southern Algeria. We lived with a family in their home and worked with an NGO on a project about how the label of being a ‘refugee’ impacts one’s identity. This really stuck with me and a couple of years later, I felt like the topic and the desire to make a film about refugees had attached itself to me. I had an idea of what I wanted to avoid in approaching this subject matter and the process started with interrogating and clearly defining these things through talking with people who had been through the asylum system and organisations who work with refugees on a day to day basis. Sensationalising the subject and using a Western character as a vehicle to tell this story were at the top of the AVOID list. And importantly, to my relief, the idea of using humour was very warmly received.
At its core, Limbo is about an individual. It’s about the introspective journey of Omar—a young Syrian musician who, separated from his family and homeland, becomes affected by the label of being a ‘refugee’ and as a result, starts to grieve for the loss of his own identity. The most essential part of this was to create a truthful universality to Omar and the other characters’ stories. Rather than witnessing a story about cultural reconciliation or creating engagement through an onscreen western character befriending refugees, I wanted to very directly connect the audience with the refugee characters onscreen. I wanted the audience to feel close to these characters regardless of race, creed or circumstance and regardless of them being asylum seekers. I wanted to put these characters front and centre and challenge the audience to see part of themselves in them.
I hope you, the Landmark Theatre audience, wherever you are, find a connection with these characters and cherish the time spent in Limbo with Omar, Farhad, Abedi and Wasef.
Posted April 21, 2021