An Interview with Fernand Melgar (Director)
Peeking Inside the Fortress
Q: Who do you create your films for?
FM: When I make my films I do it first and foremost for my society, my country. For me documentary creates a place for debate. The ancient Greeks had the Agora—a place where you could meet and where you could discuss social or political issues. In each town there was an Agora. For me, documentary is the modern Agora. So it’s very important to show the film, but then afterwards to share with people and to have people together to discuss it—and not just with me, but to bring other people in to answer questions. The way I constructed the film leaves the viewers with a lot of questions about it, and I do this very consciously. You have questions because you don’t know what decision was made for each person. Then I just have to bring the real people there and they can discuss it together—it’s very easy! It is very important for me to do the job for this reason. I am not so concerned when my film is screened in other countries; I mostly do this job for my own country, because we are talking about things happening here in this moment and it is very important to talk about that.
Q: Why are immigration issues important to you?
FM: Well for starters, I am a son of immigrants. But also I think it is a major question today, the question of immigration. From the early beginnings of civilization, people have always tried to go to better places, always. But today it has become impossible for many, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being should have the right to travel and establish themselves anywhere in the world. Well currently there are 300 million people in the world who are looking to live in a better place, and of this 30 million are refugees as defined by the Geneva Convention. And you tell me that in Japan you accepted 57 people this past year? We have to think about that.
Q: The film ends with shots of graffiti on the walls of the center. What sort of message did you want to leave the audience with those images?
FM: I never have some kind of message in my films. But for me, it reminded me of Ellis Island in New York. That’s where the Statue of Liberty is and where new immigrants arrived in the 19th century. They had to be there in quarantine when they first arrived, and there are still many messages on the walls where they wrote to family saying “I was here.” The walls are covered in these messages. It reminded me of a new Ellis Island—a place of hope.
(Compiled by Laura Turley)
Interviewers: Laura Turley, Tsumoto Mari
Photography: Tsuchiya Mao / Video: Ito Ayumi / 2009-10-11