Nowhere Line: Voices From Manus Island

By Lukas Schrank | Animation
2 men recount their dangerous journeys to Australia.

Behrouz is a journalist in Iran, whose work puts him in the cross-hairs of the repressive Iranian government. Rather than face persecution, he decides to seek asylum in Australia. But the journey proves dangerous, with imprisonment in Indonesia and a terrible boat journey. He finally lands at his destination, only to be taken to a detainment center to a remote spot near Papua New Guinea.

At Manus Island, a refugee named Omar passes time while waiting to hear whether he’s granted asylum. He make notes of the other prisoners’ growing despair, and develops a rapport with the islanders, which at first is good. But as the detainees grow desperate for decisions by the Australian government, they begin a small but vocal protest — one that erupts in violence and ends in tragedy.

Writer-director Lukas Schrank’s compelling blend of documentary and animation accomplishes the important task of giving voice to the voiceless, while offering a remarkably haunting and emotionally powerful immersion into a story often flattened or made abstract as another “current event” in the news cycle.

It captures the experience of those refugees who arrived by boat to Australia, whose government in created a group of offshore detention centers on remote Pacific islands. The government then sent refugees to these detention centers, where they were far from the eyes and attention of the world — until the Manus Island center, north of Papua New Guinea, erupted in protests and a young asylum seeker named Reza Barati was killed.

Taking audio from actual interviews with detainees inside Manus Island — most prominently with famed Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani — these detainees tell their complex, often dangerous stories: the persecution of their home countries, the often perilous journeys from one place to another, and then the dehumanizing conditions they face when they are moved to offshore processing centers, where they wait for months in subpar conditions without any word on their fate or case.

The film uses striking animation and starkly evocative sound design to bring viewers deep into the squalor and filthy conditions these refugees live within. The shadowy, deeply etched visual style — combining both photorealistic natural elements with highly stylized, awkwardly moving human figures — captures a dark, hopeless place that the powers-that-be want forgotten from the world.

But more importantly, the storytelling also touches upon the inner psychological experience of how it feels to be detained in prison-like experiences. They lose hope and fall into despair, forgotten by the world and treated as unwanted garbage.

There is no safety and security for these detainees anywhere they turn, and facing a near-unbearable moral and legal limbo of not knowing where they can go, they begin to protest — which unfortunately puts them on a dangerous collision with the local population. In the ensuing violence, the detainees are beaten brutally, especially when the detainment center’s guards and employees abandon their posts.

The events of “Nowhere Line: Voices from Manus Island” took place in 2013 and 2014, but similar situations endure even now, leading to questions and discussions on the plight of refugees and the obligations of free governments around the world.

Films like “Nowhere Line” remind us to remember the very real human beings at the center of the story, who escaped one set of horrors only to face another type of dehumanization. We forget them at our own peril, the film seems to say — and must remember that future generations will judge this moment in history based on our response, or lack of it, to this humanitarian crisis.

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