With his film Flee, which recently scored a historic trifecta of Oscar nominations in the categories of Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature, Jonas Poher Rasmussen cleverly fused two cinematic mediums to help his longtime friend tell a painful, personal story that for decades he kept to himself, while maintaining his anonymity.
The writer-director first met the friend, referred to in the film as Amin Nawabi, when he was just 15 years old. “I grew up with in very small, rural Danish village, and one day, Amin arrived all by himself from Afghanistan, and stayed in foster care with a family just around the corner from where I lived,” Rasmussen explained during Neon and Participant Media’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees. “I was, of course, already back then curious about how and why he came, but he didn’t want to talk about it, and I of course respected that. But this story kind of became this black box in our friendship that was always there.”
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Flee finds Amin sharing his story about his journey from Afghanistan to Denmark as a refugee while on the verge of marrying his husband. Over the course of the 15 years Rasmussen spent bringing the film to life, the “black box” he described began opening up, such that Amin would be able to move through his painful history to reconnect his past with his present and get to a more mentally healthy place.
Rasmussen’s animated documentary has cut a singular path through awards season following its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a grand jury prize. In the time since, it has picked up three awards at the Annecy International Film Festival, the Cinema Eye Audience Choice Prize, and the Gotham Awards and Palm Springs Film Festival’s prizes for Best Documentary. It also has received nominations from the BAFTA Awards, the ACE Eddies, the Annie Awards, the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Golden Globes, the NAACP Image Awards, the IDA Awards and the PGA Awards.
The filmmaker’s hope is that viewers will leave the film understanding that “being a refugee is not an identity,” but rather “a circumstance of life.”
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“Also…I really hope that people will understand the importance of sharing and the importance of listening, and how healing it is to share things, and how healing it is to have someone who can listen. I really think that’s in the core of this film,” Rasmussen said. “It’s someone who’s carrying something around he couldn’t share for so many years, and just how important it was for him to unburden himself. There’s so many people who carry things around that they don’t show, that you don’t see, so I hope that people will share a little bit more and listen a little bit more.”
Check out the panel video above.
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