The Flood – A Nuanced Story of Seeking Refuge

Yazmeen Kanji is the Founder and Creative Director of Films With A Cause. She has graduated from the University of Toronto, studying Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs, Equity Studies and Cinema Studies.


Having directed my first short documentary about families who fled war to seek safety in Toronto, the 2019 drama, The Flood, fuelled my anger towards xenophobia and oppressive immigration systems more than I had anticipated. Although I do not come from a family that has experienced persecution, I have become quite close with those who have through my filmmaking practices. The Flood, importantly, places a refugee’s experience at the centre of the narrative, rather than perpetuating the white saviour complex. 

Game of Thrones star Lena Headey plays Wendy, an alcoholic British immigration officer with family issues, who must decide if Eritrean refugee Haile deserves to seek asylum. The film did not pity the immigration officer or focus on her backstory, but rather explored the difficult journey that Haile had to endure before arriving in the interrogation room with Wendy. Haile is treated like a criminal, committing no wrong, except to seek safety after being tortured for failing to kill a man while forcibly working in the Eritrean army. I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a narrative film focus on the life-threatening journey that a refugee may have faced while attempting to seek the basic right of safety. The blockbuster movies that highlight the plight of refugees usually place the ‘white saviour’ at the center of the story and sensationalize terrorism threats. Typically, the white character is somehow emotionally saved by their decision to help a desperate migrant survive. I did not find this twisted formula to be the case in The Flood. Haile’s journey uncovers a few harsh realities about a refugee’s experience,: that criminality is unfairly associated with migration, and that there are deep flaws with the legitimized systems meant to guarantee immediate safety for any group of refugees without documentation.

This film demonstrates the harmful bureaucratic practices that immigration officers must adhere to, such as meeting a quota, regardless of the refugee’s circumstances. We come to realize that the system is entirely immoral, with prescribed apathy for the human being in front of them who has risked their life in order to escape torture. The immigration officers must begin their analysis of the individual by already believing that they do not belong where they have ended up. The film begs the question, if this person has gone to such lengths to arrive in another country, why would they be falsely seeking asylum? How can you not treat this person as a fellow human being, and instead view them only through a file that indicates their citizenship status? Although these are questions that may come naturally to those of us that recognize our privileges and are aware of our existence in a colonial world, it continues to boggle my mind that so many still don’t agree with protecting or supporting migrants who are simply seeking the right to survive. 

The Flood is a necessary film to watch and although based in the United Kingdom, I found it very relevant as a second-generation immigrant living in Canada. Xenophobia is the first issue that this film tackles, followed by examining the flawed government systems in place to support refugees once they arrive at their intended destination. The fact that upon his arrival he is not even given a new pair of shoes to replace his taped-up ones, and is put in handcuffs, highlights the upsetting lack of humanity within immigration systems. The Flood allows us to delve into the lives of the characters we meet, although I would have liked to see more background on Haile that does not involve the reason for his departure from Eritrea. Although we briefly hear about his mother giving him up as a child, we do not see this story. Aside from a lack of knowledge about who Haile was prior to his decision to commit ‘treason’ in Eritrea, The Flood offers a nuanced understanding of a single refugee’s perspective that extends beyond the sensationalized stories we too often see in media outlets addressing refugee crises. The question is, will we support those who seek the right to live in a new country, when we ourselves may be on stolen land, or leave them to die? Why films like this receive less recognition than white saviour stories, I’ll never understand.


A collaboration with Pacific Northwest Pictures.


Image Source: Timeout, https://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-flood-2019