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Exodus, the latest documentary by Elias Matar, documents the harrowing journey of Syrian refugees as they cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece. Over three thousand refugees attempt this treacherous crossing everyday, seeking asylum in Western Europe. It’s a life and death gamble that they are willing to take for a chance at a new life away from their war-torn homeland.
Matar begins Exodus by taking a nine-hour ferry ride east from Athens to the Greek island of Chios, which lies less than 5 miles from the Turkish mainland. Chios only has a population of 55,000 but, in 2015, almost twice as many refugees landed on the island, trying to flee the horrors of the war in Syria. And more are arriving, by the boatload. Matar, who was born in the USA but raised largely in Damascus and who also shot the similarly-themed documentary Flight of the Refugees early last year concerning asylum seekers trying to reach Germany, is not only filming the arrival of these refugees but is actively taking part in the humanitarian effort to help them land their boats and dinghies safely before helping them onto the next leg of their journeys. This isn’t easy since, although the aid workers are sure of where the refugees have set sail (Çeşme, on the westernmost tip of Turkey), they can’t be entirely sure of exactly where along Chios’ coast the boats are going to land. It could be in the day, but it’s more likely to be in the cover of darkness. This tiny stretch of the Aegean Sea might be as flat as a billiard table as the refugees cross, but it might also drown every one of them. And when they land on Chios, many of the refugees are terrified, and run. It isn’t just refugees of the Syrian war risking their lives by taking this relatively short but perilous crossing, either. The boats are also full of Afghanis trying to escape the conflict in their country between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban.
Exodus is a sobering documentary but it’s also incredibly humanising and, taking a mere seventy minutes of our time, it’s one we should all maybe try to see, if we can. Recommended.