Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.
Filmmakers: Agostino Imondi and Dietmar Ratsch
Lebanese siblings Hassan, Lial and Maradona are successful dancers and musicians living in Neukoelln, a densely populated, working-class district of Berlin that is populated largely by immigrants of Turkish and Arab descent.
Their father left home and their mother cannot support them, so the family faces the constant threat of deportation. But four of the children were born in Germany, they all go to school there – and it is the only home they have ever known.
“They are not Lebanese, but German, they don’t speak the language,” Hassan says of his family. Hassan speaks Arabic, but does not know how to write it. He was two years old when his family fled Lebanon’s civil war to live in Germany.
In 2003, they were deported from Germany for the first time. Hassan recalls: “It was on Wednesday, April 2, 2003. Maradona turned nine on that day. It was about five or six in the morning and everyone was sound asleep. I woke up right away and before my mum was at the door, I knew what was up …. Through the door I heard a man’s voice: ‘Berlin police, open the door!’
“Four officers came in and asked about the children. They stomped through all the rooms and counted us like a herd of sheep. The officers told my mum that we were to be deported. My mum told them there was still a case pending, they couldn’t deport us. But of course that didn’t help. They woke up all the kids and told us to pack our things as fast as possible. We were going back for Lebanon. The police said: ‘You can take a toy if you want.’ That made me really angry, because it was so unnecessary at that moment. They drove us to a police station close to Tegel airport. No one said anything the whole drive. I looked once more at the neighbourhood I grew up in, and tried to imagine what awaited us.
“In my so-called homeland, I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel at home. I just wanted to go back home. To where I grew up, where I went to school and where my friends lived. With nothing to do I daydreamed all day and played soccer with my cousins. Playing soccer was better than singing the blues.”
Six weeks later the family were back in Berlin, but the fear of another deportation is omnipresent in their lives, and a constant concern for all of them. Therefore, a good education, steady income and as little conflict with the authorities as possible is what guides Hassan and Lial’s lives.
Determined to keep the family united, Hassan and Lial use their artistic talents to support the family financially and battle with Berlin bureaucrats to secure a residency permit for the entire family.
Meanwhile, younger brother Maradona’s erratic school performance and his provocative street life create a lot of tension and anxiety for the family, as he risks getting a criminal record and jeopardising their application to stay in Germany.
“I think that the deportation is the main reason why Maradona is going in this direction. Maradona felt rejected by German society. He no longer felt [at] home here and that influenced his behaviour and lifestyle,” Hassan says.
Their breakdancing wins huge crowds but can it help the three young Lebanese migrants hold off deportation from their hometown? In a powerful tale of survival, creativity and desperation, Witness follows the performers’ struggle to stay in the city they consider home.