Abou Bakar Sidibé, Moritz Siebert and Estephan Wagner’s situational documentary, Those Who Jump (Les Sauteurs), begins by looking through the foreboding lens of a security camera, crosshairs and all, as it surveys a precipitous landscape from a distant outpost. Shrouded in a murky hue, the enigmatic subject is Mount Gurugu and the hundreds of souls encamped there desperately seeking to cross into the austerely safeguarded autonomous region of Melilla, a famed “gateway to Europe” situated between Africa and Spain. It’s a conscientious and astute choice for an opening shot, for it’s how so many of us in affluent and dominant countries start in relation to such stories of human hardship, poverty and movement, as distant observers: removed, alert and sadly suspicious.
It’s also an introduction laced with irony, as the way Those Who Jump operates is the complete antithesis of its first few frames; it exists to disarm this position. Co-directors Siebert and Wagner, in giving a camera to their colleague Sidibé – one of the many young men in the camps and a self-professed “future European” – so he can “just film everything” that happens around him, have created a film of guerrilla styling that is as deep in the mire as you should ever wish to be. It is a viewpoint of geographical purgatory from those who know it best, free from the shackles of media bias and agenda. Nothing but matter of fact, it dwells on pressing circumstance instead of historic context or explanation (of how and why, for instance, Melilla came to be, as one man describes it, “Europe on African land”). The drama – hanging on the success or failure of simply getting from point A to B, made complex via the need to jump a border fence – unfolds as just one more daily trial. But while the journey concerns harsh realities, life-threatening dangers and authoritarian suppression, there’s also a measure of hope, ambition and sacrifice that stops Those Who Jump from being an experience in morbidity. They’re the kind of sentiments that wouldn’t feel unfamiliar in a grand Hollywood fantasy about “making it”; these people, like any, are modest dreamers, searching for a little prosperity, a little more luck.
An insightful addition to one of the biggest political and moral topics of our age, Those Who Jump is part of a growing line of important stories about migration that have rightfully risen to prominence, from films such as Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea and Eva Orner’s Chasing Asylum to literature like Emma Kirby’s The Optician of Lampedusa. Akin to those examples, it deserves to be celebrated for giving a voice to people who may have otherwise struggled to find one, for showing people as people and not pests, threats, statistics or other, for affording personality rather than labels. In this case, that is the consequence and value of looking through the lens of Abou Bakar Sidibé rather than that of a security camera. To paraphrase a popular line from cinema in 2017: here’s to the ones who dream, to those who jump.