– In their film, which won Göteborg’s Angelo Award, the directorial duo shows what happens to communities if everyone does indeed just leave
Karin Wegsjö (left) and Nazira Abzalova
Singled out for the Angelo Award, worth SEK 50,000 (circa €4,400), at the Göteborg Film Festival, If Everyone Just Leaves [+see also:
interview: Nazira Abzalova, Karin Wegsjö
film profile] heads out to Stockholm’s district of Tensta, deemed as increasingly dangerous. But Nazira, who lives there with her family, doesn’t want to give up on the place she considers home. We talked to the documentary’s directors, Nazira Abzalova and Karin Wegsjö.
Cineuropa: These are very much your dilemmas and stories, Nazira, but you also co-directed the film. How did it come about?
Nazira Abzalova: I worked together before with Karin, on a short film about my neighbours. She was so surprised by the situation in that area. I loved it: I loved my community – I am a refugee, too – and I wanted people to see that it can also be nice. In the media, the message is clear: “It’s dangerous, so don’t go there.” But very often, it’s just not the case. We wanted to show it in a truthful way. It’s another take on the “no-go zone”.
The problem with “no-go zones” is that sometimes, people don’t even think about improving them. It’s just easier to let them be.
Karin Wegsjö: During these five years, we noticed that society has been turning its back on these suburbs. It’s a big problem because many families come there, and they want to build something together. But if society doesn’t trust you, if it’s not there for you when you need it, how can you trust it back? Politicians are talking about it more now, but this whole narrative is just… comfortable. Especially for those on the right. It’s easy to put everyone in one bag and refuse to see them as individual beings.
The title is a bit ironic because it’s precisely what you have to face, Nazira. Do you think that making this film allowed you to stay, in some way?
NA: Oh, yes. I was thinking: “How can I help the people who live there?” I am not a politician, but I can make a film and maybe this situation can change. It’s certainly my hope. My soul is still there.
KW: We want to spark a conversation. In Sweden, our society is deeply divided, it’s getting even more polarised, and it’s not so easy to connect with each other. We have to look for ways that will allow us to talk, and this is one of them.
It’s an activist film, but also very personal. Nazira, did you always want to welcome people into your home this way?
NA: We didn’t really have a choice. It’s not that easy to just knock on someone’s door in Tensta, saying: “Hi, I am here with a camera.” I decided to open up my home first because it was our way in. Everything for art [laughs]! I come from a family that used to be in film – I have been acting since I was four years old. I would like to do more, but this time, I was just falling in love with documentary. My father made fiction films, so I didn’t have that experience before. Now, I have so much affection for it.
KW: In 2013, I made a film about a friend of mine who was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [Don’t Count Me Out!]. At one point, she was only communicating with her eyes, and Nazira was one of her assistants. She kept telling her: “I want to make films!” She blinked: “Call Karin.” We started to talk, also about elections and voting. Nazira told me she had never voted in Sweden. I said: “Well, that’s the film.” After that project, after meeting her neighbours, I realised I had never seen this perspective before. We needed to do something about it.
Are you hoping it will make some people less prejudiced?
KW: At the festival, we showed the film to teenage students and had a great discussion afterwards. Some of them admitted that it changed their view on how people live in such areas. We show problems, too – we are not shying away from that – but you really get to meet them. If I had come there by myself, it would probably have been different, as we heard about people with cameras basically being chased away. In our case, we were only met with curiosity.
NA: When I would bring guests to my house, they would say: “Wow, what a nice apartment.” It was a surprise for them. They keep seeing all of these images, they hear about criminal activities, and that’s what they expect. But there are normal people living there, too!
KW: I grew up in a suburb outside of Gothenburg that also, at that time, wasn’t considered “good”. I was able to recognise some of these questions. But it was Nazira’s capacity to engage the people around her that really made a difference. One of the film’s subjects is about having a home. We have lost this sense of belonging a little.
NA: When you are a refugee, it can get so lonely if you don’t have people around you. These communities can become your family. If everyone is too busy to talk to others, our society is not going to work.