Back to IndieWire

Watch Award-Winning, Quietly Engaging, Tragic Immigrant Tale ‘Oury Jalloh’ (Short Shouts)

Watch Award-Winning, Quietly Engaging, Tragic Immigrant Tale 'Oury Jalloh' (Short Shouts)

I like the quiet simplicity of this short from German-Colombian filmmaker Simon Jaikiriuma Paetau, titled Oury Jalloh.

I only came across it because I was looking over past lists of projects selected for the Locarno Open Doors initiative we’ve highlighted on this site, and came across a feature titled Without Artificial Tits There Is No Salvation.

Of course, with a title like that, I had to learn more; A search for the film didn’t turn up much, since it hasn’t been made yet (hence the Locarno program which pairs projects with producers); but my search did lead me to more info about the filmmaker, who’s been making films since 2007. 

Simon Jaikiriuma Paetau is the son of a German father and a Colombian mother. Since 2006, he has realized projects in Colombia, Brazil, Cuba and Germany. With his last short film Mila Caos he was selected for the Cannes Director’s Fortnight, Rotterdam and many other International Film Festivals. He has won several awards, including the German Human Rights Film Prize in 2008 for the film you are about to watch, Oury Jalloh, made in 2008.

As you will learn at the beginning of the film, Oury Jalloh is was a Sierra Leonean refugee who died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau, Germany, with his hands and feet chained to a bed in the cell.

The rest of the story goes… 

A fire alarm went off, but was initially turned off without further action by an officer. The case caused national and international outrage. In 2007, two officers were charged with causing bodily harm with fatal consequences and with involuntary manslaughter, respectively, but were acquitted in December 2008 for want of evidence. However, the Federal Court of Justice annulled one of the acquittals, and since January 2011, a different court has taken up the case. According to the investigators, the fire broke out in the cell around midday. The fire alarm went off on two occasions. Noises and cries for help coming from the acoustically controlled cell were registered but ignored. Supposedly, the supervising police officer turned off the sound of the acoustic system shortly before twelve because he could not understand a telephone conversation. Only when the air-control alarm went off did he go down into the basement where the cell was located. But by that time Jalloh was found lying on a burning mattress, his body severely burned and his hands bound to the bed frame.

A terrible way to die, and a story that I don’t think is widely-known.

Director Paetau’s 30-minute film below tells Oury’s story (part of it anyway) before any of the above occurred, which is important to note. I should add that the actors in the film are all Oury’s real-life friends, and non-professionals.

It’s a quiet, engaging character study – essentially an immigrant tale that ends in tragedy. 

I’ll be checking out Paetau’s other films. I dig his style. I’m particularly interested in the feature he’s working on right now (mentioned above).


Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged