One of the best films playing at this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, and a recent award-winner at Full Frame, is Swiss filmmaker Fernand Melgar's profoundly affecting "Special Flight," which follows a group of close-knit illegal immigrants awaiting deportation in a Swiss detention center. The movie presents a deeply humanistic portrait of the men, hailing from Kosovo to Kinshasa, as well as their kind Swiss caretakers. But the genteel surroundings and tender treatment belie the painful hypocrisies of their situation. The Swiss system might have a pretense of civility, but as the increasingly disgruntled detainees eventually discover, they're screwed from the start. One inmate says it best: "We get overfed, but we're deprived of our freedom."
There's a number of strong entries at this year's festival, which I cover in this week's Village Voice, but I think "Special Flight" is above and beyond the best. (The Ai Weiwei doc "Never Sorry" is close behind.)
On the "Special Flight" website, Melgar offers one of the reasons why the film is so strong. "We had close ties with almost all inmates," he says. "We spent several months with them and knew their history, their family and their fears. When the police came to get them at Frambois to put them aboard a special flight, we were present for the shoot, but we could never say goodbye. Their distressing last gaze still haunts me today."
Melgar has extended "Special Flight" as a transmedia project, continuing to follow the inmates after they've been returned to their home country. These compelling video portrait updates are available on the film's website as a WebDoc.