Shadow Game (2021)

Shadow Game
Director: Eefje Blankevoort, Els van Driel
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 9.12.2021

Every year, or rather every day, more refugees attempt to get to Europe for a bit of safety and hope for a future. Among them are a lot of teenage boys, who have crafted a “game” out of their attempts to cross various borders within Europe, hoping to finally get to the countries where they can stay.

Shadow Game follows a handful of teenage boys from the Middle East and Africa who are on their ways into Europe, or stranded along the way, painting a harrowing picture of the inhumane and shameful policies and practices of the European countries. It’s not easy to take, but even more important for it.

The film poster showing a teenage boy looking down at the camera, above him just blue sky.

In Europe, the refugees waiting at the borders of the European Union are a constant political backdrop. Conjured up any time right-wing parties need a monster to fearmonger, they are there. And every once in a while we hear about yet another boat that sank, yet another group of people who died, or the entirely dreadful states of the refugee camps. But what Shadow Game does is to give us, on the one hand, faces and individuals to go along with, and on the other hand, shows us in detail what it means to be stuck or to be on the way North.

And so there is no way around acknowledging that we are talking about children here. When one of the boys celebrats his first beard hairs, when voices break, when bigger brothers are lost… Usually these boys are framed as young men, and then the young is dropped from the description as well. Shadow Game makes sure that we look into the face of the 15-year-old and see that he is only 15 years old.

A teenage boy in the snow, looking up hopefully.

And yet, despite that, he is already an expert in the many ways borders can be crossed and the risks each way carries – from “just” getting sent back to beatings and torture by the police to actual death. It’s no surprise that the kids call the entire thing a game. How else can you bear to think about it? The enormity of it all is too much otherwise.

Rich and powerful Europe is so eager to hoard its wealth, it accepts torture, death and abuse of children as collateral damage because they are Brown, and Black, and poor, and powerless. The callousness that the film exposes, the disregard for human life, is breathtaking – and a harsh judgment on all of us sitting in this “Castle Europe”, supporting this kind of politics and behavior. We can and need to do better than this.

Close-up of a teenage boy in a hooded jacket.

Summarizing: this film will stay with me for a long time yet.

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