“Who shall make the world more beautiful?”
Iva Radivojevic’s first full-length documentary, Evaporating Borders, closes with this quote by African-American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois. What may seem like a rhetorical question is actually a plea to viewers, beckoning us to participate and holding us accountable for what may come.
Presented in five parts, the documentary shows mounting tensions and racism in an evolving Cyprus, which is host to an increasing number of refugees and immigrants (mostly Palestinian and Syrian Muslims, and some Turks, who occupy a third of Cyprus’s northern territories), while exploring themes of migration, displacement, tolerance and belonging. Interviews provide insight into an issue that is not unique to the island.
Many Greek Cypriots feel refugees are sucking up their and their country’s resources and that the government is too generous with them, a sentiment which has led some locals to organize fascist and racist opposition. But those who flee to Cyprus from war-torn neighbouring countries do so to find work and peace. They are often undermined by potential employers due to racism, and find themselves cut off from mandatory government benefits for refugees.
Endless appeals and little advocacy force some to eventually leave the island. The film’s final scene shows a clash at a protest between a group of social justice advocates and a group of fascists, between two possibilities: that of an inclusive, welcoming society, and that of a hostile, intolerant Cyprus.
Radivojevic reveals her own observations throughout the documentary, at one point expressing her own distaste and disdain for immigrant men who look “poor, criminal, intimidating.” She consciously dissociates from them. Though Radivojevic was an immigrant to Cyprus herself (from Yugoslavia), it is as though, over time, she made a distinction between the “acceptable” immigrants (the blonde ones) and those who supposedly leech off the government, create trouble and don’t deserve her empathy. She then catches herself and reflects on what may have led her to feel this way. I was impressed that she even admitted to having had racist thoughts, which is downright embarrassing, but even more so by her capacity for introspection and analysis of an issue that is becoming more urgent and widespread daily.
Radivojevic excels in presenting a serious issue without being heavy-handed. Her shots make one envious of Cyprus’s residents who get to bask in its golden sunlight. She has a rare eye for composition, and zeros in on details that are revealing about the island’s military history and racial tensions.
Through intimate shots of neighbours and streets, we’re given the impression that Cyprus is a small village, the type that breeds intolerance, but the documentary very effectively demonstrates, through interviews with intellectuals, activists, and bureaucrats, as well as the director’s own questioning, that there is hope yet for a better Cyprus.