Flees Animation Helped Open Up The Painful Emotions Behind The Subjects Harrowing Refugee Story Contenders Documentary

Flee director Jonas Poher Rasmussen revealed that it took animation to tell the true story of his childhood friend Amin’s harrowing journey as an Afghan refugee and the painful secrets he’s held for decades to allow him to finally tell his tale both anonymously and with deep emotion.

“What really made Amin able to share a story was that he was able to be anonymous, and the animation was really a good way to do this,” Rasmussen said during a panel for the Neon movie at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary, detailing how he used the technique to both cloak his friend’s identity and re-create Afghanistan of the 1980s and Moscow of the 1990s.

“Also, it’s really a story about memory and trauma, and animation enabled us to be more expressive about dealing with these things,” said Rasmussen. “When Amin has a hard time talking about something or has difficulties remembering something, we could use animation to really be more honest about his emotion.”

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Rasmussen first befriended Amin – a pseudonym – in a small Denmark village as teenagers after the young refugee was taken in by a foster family. Rasmussen was curious about Amin’s backstory, “but he just didn’t want to talk about it, which of course I respected.” Years later, Rasmussen was approached by a Danish animation company looking for stories to animate. “And he said that he felt this was the right time for him to get the story out there – and he really wanted to get rid of it. He carried it around for so many years.”

The filmmaker said Amin’s parallel life experiences – experiencing the horrors his family encountered during their refugee flight, and being a gay man in a Muslim world – uniquely complement each other. “The story of him not being able to be open about his sexuality, and the story of him not being able to be open about his past – it’s kind of the same story, a sorry about not being able to be who you are fully.”

“[The film’s] called Flee, and it’s about the physical flight from Afghanistan to Denmark,” noted Rasmussen, “but it’s also about not being able to be who you are, really, and about a man whose reached a certain place where you feel that you can be who he is, with everything that entails.”

Initially, Amin merely wanted to relieve himself of the burden of his secretive history, but now that the film has resonated with audiences and critics, “he’s very happy that the film is out there and people relate to his story and that through him, we give a human face to refugees,” said Rasmussen. “This is really a story about my friend, but because you see a refugee story through a friendship, you get a lot more nuances than you do normally.”

Check back Tuesday for the panel video.

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