Director's statement

Oriol Canals

The silent hecatomb

Barcelona, one day in June 2000. Once again feeling slightly apprehensive as I turn on the television to watch the news. I have already heard that two boats have been wrecked off the coast, an increasingly regular occurrence, and that precious few passengers survived.

I prepare myself for the appalling images I am about to see – boat hulls smashed to smithereens, anonymous corpses, shivering survivors, stubbornly silent faces – and the sad commentary I am about to hear: the numbers of dead, disappeared and survivors. I also know that these images will throw me into an all-too-familiar state of uneasy perplexity, a mixture of bewilderment  and guilt. I feel indignant that this kind of thing is becoming more and more commonplace in my country yet nobody seems able to do anything to stop it. Our society has supposedly reached high levels of civilization. Perhaps. But in that case these incidents are a foul blot on our civilization, something beyond my understanding. It is estimated that every year nearly 4,000 people perish off the coast of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands. What kind of society just stands by and watches horrors like these? How can we condemn to death thousands of people for the sake of "socio-economicequilibrium"? Are we really aware of the price we make others pay for it?

Even so I also know full well that this news will soon be followed by others, and that this deep-seated uneasiness will wear off. As I resume my daily activities I will gradually forget what I have seen or read. Possibly when I see an African on the streets of Barcelona I might just ask myself if he is one of those “survivors of the sea”. But that is all that will remain of my indignation and my shame, or at least until the next time I turn on my television set in the knowledge that I am about to witness yet another series of silent deaths.

That is how it was for some time until one day I could not shake off this oppressive feeling. I started to keep press cuttings, to look for books and documentaries on the issue, and to take a closer look at the groups of Africans in the streets and squares of my city. Guilt and uneasiness began to be joined by curiosity and, before long, I began to feel the need to approach them: these people who risk their lives to reach the modern Eldorado that is the “western dream”; people about whom the only thing we know is the number of their corpses; people who are engulfed by the sea in their thousands but about whom we are never told anything else. Who are they? What are the stories behind this hecatomb? What becomes of the survivors?

In early summer 2005 I finally decided to react, feeling somehow that it was urgent to do something. I hired a car, loaded up my filming equipment and set off to meet the survivors.


Oriol Canals