'HUMAN': Behind the camera


Discover how Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s team was involved in the movie from the beginning

Temporary mosaic - team, From the collection of: HUMAN


Since 2012, the director has gathered around this project a team responsible for production and post-production, made of journalists and film makers.

Some of them have agreed to deliver a few filming and (post) production anecdotes, spanning over two years between 2013 and 2015.

A brief world tour in a few minutes.

Rhite - Democratic Republic of Congo, From the collection of: HUMAN
"She is a little girl from Kinshasa. Her name is Rhite. Walking quickly she comes towards us. Cowboy, our fixer, went to look for her at the Catholic mission gate in Kinshasa, near the harbour, where we set up our studio."
Anne, journalist. Shooting of interviews in Democratic Republic of the Congo, From the collection of: HUMAN

"Rhite comes forward head high, chin up. She has beautiful extensions in her hair, braids woven with beads. A small pink plastic necklace and a bracelet she constantly fiddles with. Strangely for someone who lives on the street, her yellow blouse seems impeccably ironed. Like many here, Rhite does not know her age, probably 10 or 11. She shakes my hand steadily with a confident smile. She greets me, saying 'good morning sir' and Jim saying 'good morning madam'. It is at that point that I understand that she does not really see us. She is not really blind. Not yet.

Her mother is walking a little behind. She vaguely introduces her to us – ‘she is disturbed’. This middle-aged woman, with odd features, will sit, a bent shadow, behind our camera.

The interview begins. Rhite likes to answer in French. She has learnt it in the street. We guess her loneliness, her isolation, the rejection from the other children. But her answers are too short, her sentences broken, and to understand better, for the purposes of the documentary, we ask her to continue in her mother tongue. She is not very happy about this, because she is proud of her French, she finds Kikongo 'rude'.

We insist nicely.

The interview resumes. We wonder about her childhood and her reply is a slap in the face. Her first memory? When her mother tried to drown her in the river, holding her head under water for a very long time. She struggled. She was scared. And now, she's alive.

Anne, journalist. Shooting of interviews in Democratic Republic of the Congo, From the collection of: HUMAN

The bent shadow that stands behind us shows no emotions. We do not know if she understood, if she remembers. Even less, if she feels guilty of trying to kill her only daughter... an albino.

Because here in DRC, albinos get killed... because here the difference is terrifying and people believe that albinos’ white hair have extravagant powers and a family member will reduce them into a potion. Because here ignorance at its best, puts albinos on the street. And they can do nothing against blindness that (eventually) wins, and skin cancer that eats them.

Rhite will not stop, she spits her words out and Cowboy translates for us, at length, sometimes in tears.

He tells us without looking at me about the daily life of Rhite, the Albino, who sleeps on thin cardboard in the extremely violent streets of Kinshasa, who defends herself and her mother with iron bars that she heats on the fire to cause more harm to people, who begs on markets, and that no one ever wants to play with because it's bad luck, because she is a cursed white that her mother could not kill, as she should have done. We will never find out if indeed her mother’s madness was caused by her failure to murder her daughter.

Rhite has a lively, quick, joyful and rare intelligence that clings to a dream, inaccessible here for a little girl like her. She wants to go to school one day."

DRC shooting anecdote told by Anne Poiret, journalist and assistant director.

Samuel - Spain, From the collection of: HUMAN
"When editing, I'm out of my time, out of my life, listening to every word through my screen. That people do not speak to me personally, yet I spend my day with them, hanging from their stories."
Maeva, First Assistant Editor, From the collection of: HUMAN

"And among all these life stories, those of migrants move me deeply. Fleeing because of war, fleeing from a non existent future, fleeing from injustice, fleeing from discrimination. Fleeing youth, talent, ideas; their countries let them wander aimlessly. But this is more than an 'adventure', it is an ordeal.

How can they be so unfortunate in their country that they are ready to risk losing their dear life and flee?

Eric and Christian crossed here. Departed from Cameroon, Eric, walked until his muscles melted along the road that brought him to northern Morocco near the Spanish enclave of Melilla. His face widened by the harshness of his life in the hidden forest; gnawed by this barrier he sees from the instant he gets up to that he goes to sleep – all the time. This barrier represents the border with the perfect paradise: Europe. He lives only to cross this barrier. This has been his obsession for eight months. His mind only thinks about finding the right strategy to get across. You must be smart, observant, brave, and have nothing to lose – except for your life.

He tries once. Caught. Again, caught again. A third time, a fourth, a fifth...
And among all these life stories, those of migrants move me deeply. Fleeing because of war, fleeing from a non existent future, fleeing from injustice, fleeing from discrimination. Fleeing youth, talent, ideas; their countries let them wander aimlessly. But this is more than an 'adventure', it is an ordeal.

Maeva, First Assistant Editor, From the collection of: HUMAN

I turn off the computer every night, but it does not help. The stories stay with me. I go home with them. Because nearly 2000 interviews have gone through my small screen and their lives continues somewhere in my heart.

And that night, emotions are enhanced tenfold because a year just ended, and Eric and Christian knocked at the Humankind production door. They came to tell us the rest of their adventure... on his thirteenth attempt Eric succeeded; but he left some friends and brothers behind.

He will cry later."

Production anecdote told by Maeva Issico, Supporting Movie Editor

Kaniba - Italy, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Tata’s smile is that of a child, but when I listen to his story I understand he has lived an adult life for a long time. We are in the middle of the Sicilian countryside, in a somewhat shabby reception centre, built in the eighties, where migrants are interviewed in recent days and where Tata has been waiting for three months. He waits for papers, but mostly he awaits the promise of a new life. But Tata did not look for this life. He never wanted to leave his country or come to Europe."
Anastasia, Journalist, and Dimitri, Camera Operator, From the collection of: HUMAN

"It was three years ago, he was just a schoolboy in the city of Gao, where he lived with his parents and sister. Then the arrival of the Islamists changed everything. One day his mother went to the market and she never came back, she was killed because she was not wearing the hijab.

A few weeks later, the Islamists went to Tata’s school and tried to recruit him. But he refused to take up arms. Then at the last minute, he fled. They shot him in a foot but he managed to escape. Cared for by his neighbours, terrorised, Tata decided to hit the road.

Then he moved from one country to another, working a little to fund his progress, without knowing where he was going, what awaited him, without friends, without a life. He was sixteen years old. After two years, he found himself in Libya. Without papers, he was arrested and sent to prison. Tortured every day without a reason, malnourished, his ordeal lasted six months. He was eighteen. Then one day in the madness that gripped the country, they decided to empty the prisons in an astonishing way: they put Tata and others like him on a precarious boat and sent them at sea. Before putting the boat out at sea, a warning: ‘For you, it's either Europe on the other side of the sea, or death for sure here’. After two days of chaotic crossing, Tata landed in Sicily. Europe was not his choice. When I ask how he imagined it before, he smiles and replies that he did not imagine it at all, had no idea of how people lived here and did not even know where the European continent was situated in relation to Africa.

Anastasia, Journalist, and Dimitri, Camera Operator, From the collection of: HUMAN

But once in Italy, he made friends with the people working at the reception centre, the guard, the cook. He began to learn the language and wanted Italians to get know the country where he comes from and share his culture with them. He came up with a totally crazy idea: to build a Malian house in the middle of the Sicilian countryside. He set to work for more than two weeks and today, proud of the result, takes me to his house. Made of earth and straw, surrounded by typical Sicilian houses, this house is a little metaphor for Tata’s life: a Malian dropped in the middle of a foreign country trying to find his place.

Tata is a human being, not an image seen on TV or a figure reported by the newspaper. Today there are hundreds of thousands like him fleeing their country in conflict. They do not come to work or hope for a European Eldorado. Malians, Eritreans, Somalis, Syrians, they all flee from blood, danger, death.

On the day of our meeting, Tata speaks to me of Europeans admiringly, they saved his life at sea, offered him some papers, a job, a future. I listen and I secretly dream that Tata’s dream will not be broken again, that he will not be disappointed here, as he was in his home country. When we leave, Tata smiles to me again and repeats incessantly: ‘Don’t forget me.’ But how can I forget him?"

Italy shooting anecdote told by Anastasia Mikova, journalist and assistant director

Wahid - France, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Within the last ten years, Calais, a town in the north of France, has become a crossing point for thousands of migrants who want to go to England, to find a job, to join a brother, but most of all, to flee their country."
Migrants in Calais' Jungle, From the collection of: HUMAN

"Thanks to the Salam Association, which helps people in their daily emergency needs (meals, hygiene, sleeping place...), we can set up our camera in one of the prefabricated spaces of their new refugee camp. We find ourselves in the midst of more than 400 people, 20 different nationalities, who each want to change their life, but are forced to wait here. Waiting, for days, weeks or months until the day they can crouch under a truck to cross the border, defying the police.

They come from Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea. One wanted to leave the country because he could no longer feed his family and wants to try his luck for a job allowing him to send money to his family. The other two fled their country for political reasons and war. They were repeatedly tortured and fleeing was a matter of life or death. For each one them, their journey to reach Calais lasted several months. They all stopped in Libya to work, raise a good amount of money to pay smugglers to reach Europe. Their path is strewn with pitfalls, hunger, violence, anxiety, questions about their choices, thoughts about their families who count on them. There were deaths on the road, but here they are, alive, in Calais.

Migrants in Calais' Jungle, From the collection of: HUMAN

We feel their fatigue, tears flow, but despite their extreme situation, they have not abandoned their generosity along their path, and smiles surface on their lips. ‘Of all the migratory journeys I made, none was easy. Some are harder than others, but we always smiled. Because we have hope, and hope makes you stronger.’ Yousif explains to us.

The next day, we are getting ready for a new day of interviews. We arrive near the camp, but the whole area is surrounded by French police and we cannot get access. We wait helplessly seeking information. We hear that some migrants managed to escape the police by hiding in the city, but many others, after tear gas early in the morning got trapped into buses. The newly elected Mayor of Calais promised the local people she would solve ‘this migrants problem’. Minutes later, the buses pass before our eyes, once again with all these eyes looking towards us...

That one year, two years of efforts and sacrifice was destroyed in just a few jours by the police's violent action, and a flight back to their country of origin, in a few hours.

This is a facet of our planet which 'HUMAN' highlights.

How to find a place in our world, if we do not feel good in our own country, if our country is at war, if we're hungry in our country? Of course these migrants who are back to square one will try again. What else can they do but flee a country where they can no longer live?"

Calais filming anecdote told by Hervé Kern, journalist and assistant director

Ricardo - Mexico, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Mexico, eight in the morning. We move forward, loaded like mules, through the market stalls of Tepito. Every time we go to this dodgy neighbourhood, we try to keep a low profile. The crowd is not yet at the marketplace, vendors are just beginning to fill their little boxes covered with yellow cloths with goods. We walk down a main aisle sheltered by a blue tarpaulin. It is in this fluid ambience, between TV sets from the backs of trucks and car radios of dubious origin, that the Reconocimiento Foundation has its front door, squarely facing this pedestrian street."
Erik in Mexico, From the collection of: HUMAN

"We ring the bell. The entrance looks bleak after the bath of light from outside. Young teenagers are lying on two couches that frame the passage. We begin the tour of the Home. Children are everywhere. They call each other out, joke, play with a ball or sit around the TV that yells at full blast in another room. 'Soapies', whispers Roberto, our contact at the Foundation, shrugging imperceptibly – girls love them. There are indeed many girls in this room, without counting the very young children and even some babies, as if they were illustrating what Roberto is telling us: most of them left the streets because they were going to be moms.

We finally sit in a large, slightly dark room. Abigail comes in dragged by her daughter, who seems happy to meet total strangers. She burbles constantly. Abigail puts her hands on her daughter’s shoulders and smiles. She is beautiful, in a Botero’s way. She speaks softly, in concise sentences, making eye-contact. Yes, Abigail wants to talk to us. This is great; we absolutely want her to talk. Without knowing anything about her history, without knowing what she wants to tell us, just for her smile and her eyes, and those hands delicately resting on her daughter's shoulders. Abigail will be our first interview.

Erik in Mexico, From the collection of: HUMAN

Suddenly a real hurricane appears. She utters her identity in one go and drops into an armchair, sinking-in, which makes her looks even more fragile. Viridiana is fifteen, but she looks barely twelve. She is very small. Her feet beat an inaudible rhythm, that of her boundless energy. We laugh with her. Viridiana surmounts our decision. We do not yet suspect the emotions she will bring us. Viridiana’s big laugh that conquers everything, this great laugh that hides terrible years...

We now want a boy. Two girls already... but none of the boys will agree to be interviewed. Either they refuse to participate in the exercise, which is legitimate, or they show a strong shyness and we struggle to pull out even a couple of monosyllables. Then Ricardo comes with his Afro-Mexican mug and his disheveled hair. He entered on tiptoes, sits without a noise, balancing on the edge of the chair, hands wedged between his knees. He looks at us; he stutters his name and then something inaudible. I lean towards him and ask him to repeat. I want the role, he says in breath; I want to be in the movie. Ricardo doesn’t know it yet, but he has successfully completed his first casting."

Mexico shooting anecdote told by Erik Van Laere, journalist and assistant director

Michelle - France, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Marine and I are in the bakery of Josselin, Brittany. It was in this Morbihan town that we would spend the next five days, along with Michelle, the owner of a place that smells like bread and pastries. Michelle modestly likes to be called 'a baker's wife' but is a true magician: she has the set objective to give a smile to any grumpy person that walks into her shop. And it works! Within a few minutes, we note with joy that Michelle smiles to all customers, even the gloomiest. Whether she knows them or they are perfect strangers."
Mélina, Journalist, with Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Pedro Opeka, who had just been interviewed, From the collection of: HUMAN

"This exceptional shopkeeper, within a week, will play a fundamental role for the success of our shoot. The baker, who knows everybody in Josselin will connect us with our future interviewees. Thus taking on the role of the 'fixer'; these ordinary unknown men and women, without whom – both in France and abroad – filming would never take place... or at least not in such good conditions. These people are the assistant director, in short, the film crew allies when we arrive in an unknown place to shake up the lives of its inhabitants. Certainly, we are not in Homs or in Bangui, and Michelle did not need to protect us from danger. But the erosion of trust in the media has done its part... and there are very few people who are prepared to be interviewed.

It was in this town that we rediscovered a trait sometimes forgotten, often overlooked: humility. Indeed many men and women who refuse to engage in this exercise paraded before our eyes, because they were convinced ‘they didn’t have anything interesting to say,’ or of being ‘close to nothing in this big world’. And again, it is Michelle who takes over and knows the right words to convince some people to spend some of their time with us without fearing our movies equipment.

Mélina, Journalist, with Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Pedro Opeka, who had just been interviewed, From the collection of: HUMAN

Finally, the necessary trust sets in and a virtuous circle emerges. One, two... four... seven... twelve people come one after the other to engage with the camera, to tell us about their day in the factory, the importance they give to their family, life choices that led them to where they are now, their wildest dreams, their secret ambitions... sometimes whispered in half words.

Then comes the turn to interview Michelle. Not surprisingly, she who speaks best of that trust, acquired over the years. Twenty-five years of sharing trust and to build friendships: ‘I discovered this profession by chance, because when you marry a baker... then you become a baker! What I like is to give something good to people, to see them leave with a smile. The relationship you can have with some people is great. This is not only a customer/vendor exchange. It's more than that. People trust us with many things! After... we are true 'confidential' confidants... They tell us about their small problems, their small joys, about their family members. They have placed their trust in us, and that is something that we must deserve at all time.'

It is ultimately the same feeling that conducted Marine and I to meet all these people that we won’t forget during our life, as we will remember the strength and the humility that characterises them."

Bretagne shooting anecdote told by Mélina Huet, journalist and assistant director

Youssef - Lebanon, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Seeing him coming from afar, his head covered with a white kaffiyeh held by an agal, his body leaning heavily on his cane, his walk frail and his hands trembling, I rushed to his side to offer him my arm. My approach and my good intentions were unsuccessful and gently refused. Despite the long and imposing staircase that separated him from the place of the interview, Youssef Hassan was not among those who wanted people to bow to their age and their frailty."
Mia, Journalist, at work!, From the collection of: HUMAN

"Despite the long and imposing staircase that separated him from the place of the interview, Youssef Hassan was not among those who wanted people to bow to their age and their frailty.

He was not there to kill this winter hours with affable talks, over coffee and biscuits. My sincere salaams had little impact on him, but no matter, I was in love with his headgear and his fierce look, grateful for his presence in our hotel in Tyre.

Once installed on the small wooden chair, Youssef had only one urge: shout his love for Palestine to the Planet, shout his desire for justice, homeland and rights, ‘more dear than my soul’ for him. He came for this reason; he made the journey at the age of 82, made space for that. The time I took to pose my questions was too much time for him. He had too much to say, too much to recreate, too much to curse: the memories of his youth, his past as a farmer's son, the agreement that once existed between Jews and Arabs, the land of his father who adjoined those of the kibbutz, leaving the country in 1948 at the age of 21 imagining that this would be for the last time, his miles of walking with empty pockets, key in hand, promises broken by the Arabs, moving to shelters, the demolition of his shop during the Lebanon war, his wife giving birth alone and helpless...

Mia, Journalist, at work!, From the collection of: HUMAN

The slightest of my reminders made him speak louder, higher, more raucously. At one point in the interview, I remember shifting out of his voice to enter in his blue eyes with iris blurred by age. A brief digression during which I watched him screaming, imagining and feeling the impalpable. I already knew the gist of his call for recognition from us westerners and me as a Lebanese but I was shocked. Because in his mature man’s voice, in his white beard and divergent eyes, I read the urgency of a final testimony. I sensed the fear of returning to dust without a trace. I saw a wandering life lived breathlessly in a past that no longer existed, like the wind that once swept the wheat fields. I was no longer French-Lebanese Maronite and I was not a journalist in search of life stories, I was a spectator of his humanity, in the front row of a heart to heart between poignant memory and death. I attended powerless in tribute of a man returned to his hidden Planet, his own Planet, Palestine.

Then a second event came and ended our interview. ‘Hajj’ Youssef Hassan, a pilgrim who experienced and overcame Mecca, had a meeting with his ‘Hajjé’ (his wife) and with God. Leaning on his wooden cane, the kaffiyeh in its place, he took the road for the fourth prayer of the day, which starts just after sunset..."

Lebanon shooting anecdote told by Mia Sfeir, journalist and assistant director

Roslin - United-States, From the collection of: HUMAN
"In. Out. In. Out. I come out a week of logging, it feels like coming out of an intensive stay in rehab. Several weeks of shooting gave way to everyday peace. A transition, a short week in front of the screen reviewing the faces we met, listening to the words we recorded. Twelve hours a day spent reviewing the rounds of interviews, processing the life stories injected into us. Stories for coming down, stories for touching ground."
Emmanuel interviewing, From the collection of: HUMAN

"In. Out. In. Out. The strongest passages of each interview are selected. But between personal truths and other replies, there are silences, questions, to-the-point updates and other technical adjustments. I smile or grimace while allowing those breaks run and I realise that my interviewer’s experience is that of a very curious person. I breathe. Despite the camera and the two metres that separated us, we connected. Often, I myself found I related to the words. Sometimes, I loose myself.

In. This is Roslin, a former prostitute turned recycler in the hot neighbourhoods of Oakland, as mischievous as a kid, lucid in her torpor. I interview her at Ricardo’s, a Mexican pastor who has lived illegally in the United States for 23 years. Roslin talks about the joys of fishing with a cane in Louisiana as a child. Roslin is astonished by a society which does not care for its elderly and its kids – since the one is our roots and the other is our future. Roslin gets up in the middle of our interview and ships me around for an hour to pick up a friend of hers from hospital, an old convalescent woman. ‘You asked me how I show my love for others? Here's how.’ The rest of the interview will wait. Out.

Emmanuel interviewing, From the collection of: HUMAN

In. Roslin is back. Suddenly she tells me that, yes, she has indeed experienced discrimination... especially when they hung her half-brother by the neck to a tree and burnt crosses in his garden. But, yes, she forgave... because we all bleed the same red blood ... because forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing of all. Roslin makes funny faces and jokes during the portrait session at the end of the interview, and then Roslin goes out again, to the streets. Out.

In. Out. In. Out. My time in rehab ends. Fatigue and jet lag in my mouth, they subside; we make choices, we do our sorting, we find ourselves, we touch ground."

US shooting anecdote told by Emmanuel Cappellin, journalist and assistant director

Zica - Brazil, From the collection of: HUMAN
"Zica arrives with a great laugh and head movements that emphasise her long curly hair. A supercharged African-Brazilian business woman, she made a fortune with hair salons dedicated to the beauty of black hair. According to Jerome, our contact, she expresses very well the Brazilian black pride, and the success in business. She came with the communications manager of her company, who wished to be present to the interview, which for us was not a good sign. We explain to them that this is a very personal interview that it does not focus on the business but on Zica herself, it is extremely important that she speaks about herself, using the 'I' and if she talks about her business, this should only help us understanding the importance of it in her life, and so on."
Isabelle, Journalist. Shooting of interviews in Brasil., From the collection of: HUMAN

"The interview begins, and Zica speaks straightaway of her brand, her products, she is in a mad hurry to finish and we miss anything real she could tell us – while the potential is there. We tried to explain the idea, give examples, but it does not work.

In fact, it is often difficult to explain this project, based on ideas that are so 'simple' that we ask everybody the same questions. But we need an answer which is at once personal (please use 'I' not 'one'!), descriptive (‘if possible, give a concrete example that allows everyone to understand what you have in mind!’), contextualised (‘we know nothing about you or where you live and what your life might be like, it is important to give some elements for understanding') all in less than a minute – if possible – and knowing that each answer is self-contained, so it is necessary to repeat certain elements, if that makes sense in the reply. We need to tell all this to the person we wish to interview without flooding them with information, and while keeping the environment friendly and making clear there are no wrong answers (‘There is no wrong answer, we want you to talk about yourself, and really yourself!’)...

Isabelle, Journalist. Shooting of interviews in Brasil., From the collection of: HUMAN

In short, the magic of these interviews, when it works, is that it looks like a beautiful inner journey that someone is sharing with us... but when it doesn’t work, it can be very annoying, especially when we feel we are in front of a strong personality. And there, with Zica, it did not work. With Chloe, the camera operator, we decide to stop recording, and openly discuss with Zica, by asking what it means for her to employ thousands of people when she was born in a favela ... and suddenly it clicked! It includes how her experience could be inspiring for other people, which makes her testimony essential, not her box but the way she grew up becoming a businesswoman, how she gained confidence in herself, etc.

We switch the camera on again. Zica offers us splendid answers, short, illustrated, personal and universal, all with an overwhelming spontaneity. It worked. And to think that we were on the verge of giving up."

Brazil shooing anecdote told by Isabelle Vayron, journalist and assistant director

Abdel Nasser - France, From the collection of: HUMAN
"A few months after the first shooting in Calais, the 'HUMAN' team returned to meet the migrants who continued to arrive in the city."
Marine in Calais, From the collection of: HUMAN

"The camp where the previous team was hosted in July no longer exists. Places have changed and so have people: some migrants moved to England, others were escorted to detention centres somewhere in Europe. A short drive from the studio is where we set-up for the interviews; there is still the 'jungle', where several hundred tents are organised around a football field, partly in the woods, partly on the wasteland of the Calais industrial area. When the 'HUMAN' team gets there, some of the migrants are busy building a church with plastic sheets and pallets covered with mats.

Other spaces are used, including the old Galloo plant, closer to the city centre, where about 200 migrants have settled. A smell of wood fire reigns in a particularly cold November.

Marine in Calais, From the collection of: HUMAN

Contact with the migrants has profoundly changed since last time. Life is more difficult in these climate conditions and the media never stop asking for interviews. The migrants are willing to talk, but showing their faces is often too dangerous for them or for their families back in the country they fled. They often don’t want to be identified in this situation, which they hope will be as temporary as possible. Security around the crossing spots to the UK has drastically increased and the police are more numerous – besides the migrant population has tripled since July, reaching 2500 in November.

More demanding conditions call for a more tactful approach. Yet ten migrants tell us about their story, their journey, their fears and their hopes before the 'HUMAN' camera."

Calais filming anecdote told by Marine Ottogalli, shooting operator and assistant director

Habibo - Kenya, From the collection of: HUMAN
"We leave Nairobi to go to Dadaab, in Kenya’s eastern region, where we will spend 10 days doing interviews. But the town of Dadaab is at the 'end of the world', it requires a long day's drive in a security convoy to reach the end corner of the country near the Somali border. An endless tarmac road and then a dirt track lead to the border. It is no coincidence that Dadaab is so 'far': 500,000 people live here close to their country of origin; in fact the third Kenyan city is actually the largest refugee camp in the world. Mostly Somalis, but also Ethiopians and Congolese. All fled their countries. Fled war, drought, or deadly traditions. Some have been here for 20 years, since the UNHCR opened the camp, when war broke out in Somalia and pushed on the roads of exile millions of Somalis"
Sibylle, Assistant Director and Camera Operator. Photo: shooting of interviews in Dadaab, Kenya, From the collection of: HUMAN

"5 camps are spread over 50km2 around the original Dadaab village to accommodate these exiles. We are welcomed in the 6th camp: the NGOs camp. 5000 aid workers live in the heart of a tightly watched fenced compound: high sandbag walls topped with barbed wire, drastic security controls at the entrance. When we entered the camp, we didn’t realise that we would only get out 15 days later!

The security situation in Dadaab has deteriorated in recent months; Somali militias are spreading terror in the camps aiming to the Kenyan police forces and foreign aid workers. Two of them are still being held hostage. Therefore, in recent months NGOs employees work more on the ground than in the offices of the camp. So, we were also confined to this fortress where we set up our studio. We could go and meet our future interviewees as usual, or rather they came to us. For two weeks, we collected the life stories of these exiles who have become prisoners of their condition.

Sibylle, Assistant Director and Camera Operator. Photo: shooting of interviews in Dadaab, Kenya, From the collection of: HUMAN

The absurdity of war follows the refugees into exile where their situation is grotesque: gathered in these camps that turned into mock towns, they are really Somalis and will never be Kenyans. Kenya welcomes survivors out of humanitarian duty, but their presence is supposed to be temporary. Kenya cannot give citizenship to those 500 000 people. Is it because of their Muslim faith, which if they became Kenyans, would suddenly tip the religious balance in the country? Is it because the country cannot absorb 500 000 new arms looking for work? Already a first generation was born in the camps, and today a third generation of 'Dadaabiens' is coming to light.

Refugees are officially barred from working, they must live on an increasingly tenuous humanitarian aid while their families only have the option of marriage and births only increase. When the law and the fact of life are so inconsistent, survival is stronger and people elude the law. Trafficking and illegal work become the norm, the law the exception. For 2 weeks we listen to stories of struggle and survival, and record the voices of those who have lost everything, their family, their possessions, and even their identity."

Kenya shooting anecdote told by Sibylle d'Orgeval, journalist and assistant director

Meet Mia and Emmanuel at Burning Man in 2013, Black Rock Desert, US

Credits: Story

Thank you:

Florent Gilard
Nuno Pires
Mélina Huet
Valentin Wattelet
Sterenn Hall


Jérémy Frey
Marine Ottogalli
Chloé Henry-Biabaud
Hervé Kern
Emmanuel Cappellin

A GoodPlanet Foundation & Bettencourt Schueller Foundation Production in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.