FOLLOWING THE SUCCESS OF THIS FIRST COLLECTION, THERE IS A SECOND COLLECTION IN PROGRESS:
TO THE FOUR WINDS relates the encounters and ensuing relationships between inhabitants in the Roya valley and refugees who have arrived there after crossing the border between France and Italy.
Michel Toesca is a filmmaker who lives in the valley. For the past two years, he has been filming men and women who have decided to take action against an inhuman and shocking situation, at the risk of being prosecuted. Groups of people, who hardly know each other, meet and get organized to claim a right to humanity.
Cédric Herrou is a farmer in the valley. He rapidly became a key figure in helping the refugees. He is one of the main characters in the film.
From their relationship and risks taken together while filming actions that were initially considered illegal, a strong connection developed.
TO THE FOUR WINDS tells the story of their friendship and all the connections woven between the inhabitants and the refugees, who chose to risk it all with the hope of a better life…
The goal is to raise €15,000 to steady the development and production of the film. But in order to secure this feature film and manage to show it in movie theatres, we need to collect a minimum of €150,000…
Each contribution is important, many thanks to all of you who support us and share this page !!
Project’s inception, by Michel Toesca, director of the film
I have lived in the Roya valley for eight years.
Thirty kilometres from the Mediterranean, as the crow flies, the Roya mountains run at an altitude of 3,300 meters.
I have known this frontier valley since I was a child. I now live in the house where I used spend my holidays as a kid, with my wife and daughter.
I know the people here and I dearly love this land. I have made three feature films, from 2009 and 2015: Per sempre, Le Village and Démocratie Zéro6.
People here do their shopping in Ventimiglia, Italy, as it is the closest city to the valley. Hundreds of migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East first started coming to this city as early as April 2015.
I was aware of the situation in Greece, Italy, Lampedusa, Sicilia, and in the Mediterranean. What was happening in Ventimiglia, however, did not get any media attention. When France closed its border in June, 2015, thousands got stuck in Ventimiglia, trying to avoid the border by reaching the coastline and the surrounding area.
By closing the border in Menton, France imposed on Italy, in Ventimiglia, what the UK imposes on France, in Calais. The 2013 Dublin Regulation forces refugees to seek asylum in the country in which they first set foot. Most of them do not want to stay in Italy but are grounded there.
When I saw crowds of refugees near the station, under the bridges and on the rocks on the border beach between Ventimiglia and Menton, I realized something was happening. This is when I then started filming, on occasions, without really thinking of a movie yet.
I often capture what I see around me. I like to view the world through a camera. This is what I like doing – make films.
Migrants on the Italian border have a clear view on the French coast… But the border is closed. Most of them try and cross through the mountains. They are regularly arrested by the police and French and Italian army and sent back to Sicilia or the South of Italy. But they don’t give up – they go back to Ventimiglia and try crossing again. Some have tried up to twenty-two times, which is interesting, when you think that the authorities communicate on the number of times people have tried to cross, instead of recording the actual number of people who have tried crossing.
Photo credits : © Sinawi Medine
In the autumn of 2015, like everyone else in the valley, I started seeing exhausted men, women and children, starving, walking along the roads and railroad tracks, only wearing flip-flops and t-shirts in the cold. They slept on the ground, in the rain, in public gardens and train tunnels with young children. For some months already, refugees had been piling up in Ventimiglia, looking for a way to get into France. In September, they realized they could cross the frontier through the mountains.
These crossings are dangerously risky. Many get lost, or take the wrong route because of the geography of the valley, which is a French enclave into Italian territory – when heading to the North, refugees think they’re moving towards Paris when in fact, they’re going back into Italy (see map.)
One feels helpless when faced with so many people in the greatest poverty. Like many others, I stop, give them food or clothes. I seek to understand who they are and where they’re going. Those who speak English tell me what they’ve been through after fleeing their countries: War, dictatorship, crossing the deserts, Libya…
I am overwhelmed by their stories, and their destitution. They have endured wars, torture, rape, deserts and the Mediterranean crossing. They get there, in a state of mere survival.
As for local public authorities and the prefecture, they overtly encourage sending the migrants back to Italy, including unaccompanied minors – which is illegal – while reinforcing controls and refusing to set up reception centres. The military police, border police and Sentinelle Police force patrol the valley everyday. Check points have been set up and arrests intensify. Their goal is to prevent refugees to reach the prefecture to seek asylum, although they are entitled to.
Cédric Herrou lives further down the valley, in Breil-sur-Roya. We’ve been friends for a long time. He has seen my films, and has even organized a screening of my previous movie Démocratie Zero6 in a neighbouring village. He raises hens, tends olive trees and sells the eggs and oil in AMAPs (associations supporting small farming) and on markets. He was always part of the struggles in the valley and he’s convinced that being a citizen means being present on the ground on a daily basis.
Very quickly, Cédric Herrou and many others decided to house, feed and sometimes give a lift to refugees to get out of the valley so they could continue their journey. They face up to five years in prison and a €50,000 fine.
A pallet living room with clotheslines and tent fabric… On Cédric’s property, a collective day-to-day life wag organized with the migrants.
I started filming when he started smuggling migrants into France.
I began in Ventimiglia with refugees and Italian associations. I filmed the border and military police as well as Italian and French politicians: powerlessness, contradictory internal commands, circumventing the law on asylum, use of fake legal documents to send unaccompanied minors back to Italy… Refugees face a situation that is beyond their control, paying the price for anomalies in the administration and police institutions that are left to themselves due to the lack of clear directives and competent jurisdiction.
I then followed the migrants’ journey and went back up the Roya valley, where I shooted how they organized mutual assistance and smuggling.
Cédric Herrou then came to me and suggested I film and participate in the collective of associations set up to cope with a situation that is upsetting life in the valley.
The idea is to point the irregularities from the prefecture and try and make political positions shift to obtain a satisfactory administrative and legal response. At that time, there was no media coverage at all, and Cédric Herrou was not a local hero yet. I accepted his proposal with enthusiasm.
As months go by, our friendship developed as we carried out and shared actions. Him and I have witnessed the same things at the same time. We were both affected and shocked by a brutal and absurd situation. In Cédric, I find a brother who is equally touched by a strong belief in justice, life and self-derision. Because of our mutual trust and understanding, I can record scenes at a very close distance.
It has been two years now since we have seen the first migrants in the Roya valley. Since then, hundreds have crossed our region, and there are newcomers everyday. Quite a lot has happened during that period. After an article in the New York Times, Cédric got a lot of media attention and became a figure of solidarity towards refugees.
During the past two years, over a dozen participants in the struggle were arrested, judged, sentenced, while others are still waiting for their trial.
What I find immensely satisfying and exciting is that, thanks to our actions, our struggle and the film, we managed to affect a small region in the world. Lawyers got organized in a group to hold the prefecture and department accountable. This is no longer humanitarian aid only, but legal and political assistance. Abuses from the prefecture and the police have been exposed, which led to an order from the administrative court sentencing the prefect for seriously obstructing the asylum system. This may be a small victory compared to the refugee issue in Europe, but we were pleased with the news as we achieved this with joy and derision. We are proud to have been the sand in the gears. We were able to get our way, avoiding violence, and with a smile.
And yet, the prefecture persists in using all the repressive tools in its control to contain refugees in the Roya valley and prevent them from seeking asylum.
This is why we are calling on you today, to help us make this film.
The money collected will enable us to finish TO THE FOUR WINDS, providing funds for the rest of the shooting to be done – the first part were self-financed by the filmmaker – post production and promotion. We would also like to use the money to raise awareness among French citizens and public authorities on this episode in the story of migration, that has been unfolding over the past two years in Ventimiglia and the Roya valley.
A Brief Summary of Events
Hundreds of refugees arrive in Ventimiglia. France closes its borders.
Makeshift refugee camps are established in Ventimiglia. The mayor of the city bans distribution of food to refugees.
All camps in Ventimiglia are dismantled.
Photo credits : © Sinawi Medine
The Roya inhabitants start seeing migrants wandering on the valley roads, railroad tracks and paths. They are exhausted and starving men, women and children, in a state of mere survival.
The whole valley reacts with their presence. Everybody does differently, according to one’s own feelings. Some immediately help them, others do not know what to do, the majority keep their distances, and some others feel overwhelmed. In the beginning, we are scared to house refugees in our homes. One day, we learn that someone is helping them, so we talk about it discreetly, because those feeling migrants are invading the country become vocal about it. Very quickly, migrants are welcomed by the few families that have decided to host them, stretching from the south to the north of the valley. There is a surge in acts of spontaneous solidarity, both in Italy and France. This improvised network expands of its own accord, without consultation. It is a gut response to an absurd situation. No one really knows then what is legal or illegal, and no one really bothers in the face of the emergency.
With the surge of more and more vulnerable people in the Roya valley, refugees being evicted after the dismantlement of camps in Ventimiglia and against the backdrop of France’s repressive policy of closing borders, the inhabitants get more and more mobilized. They decide to get organized and restart the Roya Citoyenne association, modifying the original articles – “the defence of the citizens of the world” is now a priority. The community coordinates mutual assistance; lawyers, including Mireille Damiano, Zia Oloumi and Maeva Binimelis gather together to establish a legal strategy; doctors and nurses from Médecins du Monde volunteer to deliver medical care in reception centres.
Tired of being in constant humanitarian emergency, the collective aims at shifting the political and administrative lines: media coverage becomes strategic.
Françoise Cotta is a lawyer at the Paris Bar. She lives part time in the Roya valley and she’s a member of the Roya Citoyenne association.
Cédric Herrou and Michel Toesca meet with Adam Nossiter, who won the Pulitzer Prize and is the current Paris correspondant for the New York Times. Adam wants to write a story on the influx of migrants in the region. Cédric and Michel show him the mountain and railroad tracks walked by migrants.
A few weeks later, Cédric is on the front page in the New York Times. The situation intensifies. Cédric quickly becomes an international media figure, embodying solidarity, which he uses to the benefit of his friends and the Roya Citoyenne association to pursue political action, beyond parties. Cédric uses media coverage to expose the issue of migrants in the public and political life, to the point of discussing it live with Manuel Valls on France 2 public television channel. Answering journalists’ questions, he does not claim to be an activist but a simple human being taking action in a bleak inhumane situation.
After the publication of the New York Times story, local politicians Mr. Ciotti and Mr. Estrosi claim the Roya valley is filled with dangerous extremists. They file a lawsuit against them and accuse them of smuggling foreigners and terrorists on French soil. In the valley too, the population is divided on how to deal with refugees.
Households ready to host migrants are too few. More than 80 people now live on Cédric’s property. A group of inhabitants, Cédric at the front, open a squat in an disused building belonging to the SNCF state railway company in the north of the valley to give shelter to a hundred of refugees.
Three days later, the director of the prefect’s cabinet Mr. François Xavier Lauch, and public prosecutor Mr. Jean-Michel Prêtre (in charge of prosecution on behalf of the state) get to the site along with 200 riot police officers, who dismantle the squat and evacuate the migrants.
Cédric takes on them about the illegal treatment of unaccompanied minors, who are sent back to Italy instead of being taken care of. “Ok, we might not abide by the law, but you don’t either. So as long as you keep infringing the law, we won’t respect it either!” Cédric demands that the minors still present in the squat be placed in reception centres. The prefect cannot refuse.
An hour later, Cédric is arrested by the police and held in custody for the third time, a scene that Michel captures with the camera hidden under his arm. He manages to give the rushes to a friend before being evacuated in his turn.
Nice courthouse. A massive crowd is gathered to support Cédric, including the media.
The prosecution calls for an eight-month suspended sentence against Cédric for his statements in the New York Times and opening a squat in the valley. In February 2017, the court orders a suspended fine of €3,000 for helping migrants enter the country illegally but he is cleared of more severe charges of the illegal occupation of an abandoned SNCF building.
In August 2016, he had already faced charges for giving a lift to eight Eritreans but the case was closed on the grounds that he had acted out of humanitarian reasons.
The administrative court sentences the prefect for seriously obstructing the asylum process. The actions of both the prefect and police are deemed unlawful.
Both the prefecture and department place Cédric in an absurd situation. He alone can take a dozen asylum seekers from the Roya valley to Nice without being arrested. He overcomes the failings of the state, which is being passive in the situation.
The influx of migrants is growing. SNCF refuses to take migrants on board from Breil-sur-Roya to Nice for free. Police and military controls are on a surge, resulting in the Roya Citoyenne association, with Cédric at the front, to walk there through winding mountain roads. It is a three-day walk, over a distance of a little more than 80 kilometres, on the ancestral salt road towards Nice, with a hundred refugees.
A couple of days later, Cédric’s property is surrounded by the police and army, making it impossible to leave the Roya valley. A siege of sorts, containing refugees in the valley, while reception centres are overly congested. The state must do something to cope with the growing number of refugees. It is not for associations to deal with it. The prefecture’s inaction and repression are simply inadequate and surreal.
19 June 2017
The advocate general Mr. Raffin calls for an eight months suspended sentence against Cédric. The court will take its decision on 8 august.
21 June 2017 Cédric Herrou is placed a new tim in police custody for helping foreigners in an irregular situation. He is released on 22 June. The two minors arrested with him are taken in charge by the local social welfare department.
26 june 2017
The researcher Pierre-Alain Mannoni is tried on appeal, the advocate general calls for a three months suspended sentence against him for his aid to the migrants.