The symbolism of a passport 

Last night I had my first experience of the Sarajevo Film Festival. Now in its 22nd year, the event, started in the pain and confusion of a prolonged siege, continues to go from strength to strength. 

The showing at the Summer Screen was of a documentary called Sonita. The titular protagonist is a teenage Afghan refugee living in Iran illegally, who has an urge to become a rapper. 

It’s a very powerful film, by turns harrowing, disarming and uplifting. The direction of the story is clear but by no means certain; at one critical moment it appears that Sonita will be brought back to Herat and sold as a bride, just so that her brother can buy a wife for himself. Only the film-maker’s personal financial intervention can avoid this outcome. 

For me the most moving moment was when the young woman received her new passport. In a scene earlier in the documentary it had become apparent that she had no papers – neither from Iran nor Afghanistan. At a stroke, as she held the little blue book in her hands, she knew what it was to have a personhood partially restored. She suddenly had agency. 

It brought me to tears. 

In the UK there is currently a campaign going on to change the colour of our passports from dark red to dark blue. The Sun newspaper, our most widely read tabloid, made an oversize replica and took it to Parliament to lobby MPs. 

Needless to say, we also recently voted as a country to leave the EU so that we can make it harder for people to reach our land. Much of the anti-immigration feeling has been whipped up against people like Sonita. 

It brings me to tears. 

Advertisements