Filmmaker Markus Imhoof’s 1981 drama The Boat Is Full, which was Oscar nominated in the foreign film category, told the story of post-World War II refugees –four Jewish people, a French child and German soldier–who seek asylum in a rigid-Switzerland. Thirty-seven years later, Imhoof returns to the same subject, but through a documentary lens, and learns that the attitudes in his homeland and Europe haven’t changed much.

His latest movie Eldorado, Switzerland’s foreign language Oscar entry, follows refugees from Africa to Palestine, making their way into Europe via Italy up to Switzerland: Their lives on a boat (they were forced to stay on deck while it rained — a scene which Imhoof was told by authorities not to lense), in mafia-run slave labor garden, to being quizzed at immigration desks and sent back home. Eldorado shows the vicious circle for these refugees: The Italian subsidized farms in which they’re underpaid and work yield the cans of tomatoes which their own African homelands now purchase (instead of fostering their own produce for their economy). Imhoof’s journey is juxtaposed with a childhood story: His family following World War II took in Giovanna, an Italian refugee, who became his first love. However, she was taken back by Swiss authorities, deported, and died when she was 13 of undernourishment. She has been an inspiration for Imhoof ever since for both The Boat Is Full and Eldorado. 

“The expression ‘the boat is full’ is a cruel and cynical analyze of the situation,” says Imhoof at last night’s Awardsline screening at the Landmark in Los Angeles, “The expression never left me.”

Watch our video interview with Imhoof above.