When director Jakob Preuss arrives at a refugees camp at Melilla located at the coast of Morocco, he meets Paul. Paul is a Cameroon who fled his home three years earlier. In Melilla he awates the possibility to get to Europe with a boat organised by smugglers. A film about an encounter that not only changed Pauls destiny but also the life of Preuss.


I won’t ever be able to tell wether Paul chose me or I chose him – either way. This is the story of our encounter. – Director Jakob Preuss

© Weydemann Bros. Juan Sarmiento G.

At a camp in the forests close to the harbour of Melilla, thousands of people from all over Africa – especially from the Western part – await the the possibilty to start a new life in Europe. Under difficult conditions without electricity or a water system they reside in improvised tents. Waiting for being taken away by one of the illegal smugglers. A long time can pass waiting at the camp, months or even years.


Not only misery but conversations on a joint eye level

Jakob Preuss, Grimme-Prize awarded documetary director, plans to make a film about EU-border crossings when he arrives at the North coast of Morocco. With the aim to create an insight of processes at border controls – but then he makes friends with Paul.

The German filmmaker is surprised by the optimism of the people he meets there. It is not only misery, pain caused by their toughjourneys or uncertainty about their future they display but also zest for life and humour. Preuss meets people who he can have conversation on a joint eye level with, despite the circumstances they live in. ‚People should consider that a lot of refugees are sophisticated individuals with a high level of education. Paul for instance studied law and political science. I was impressed by these people’s energy“, reflects Jakob Preuss in an interview with afrika!.

After some time, Preuss recognizes Paul in a news clip about a starnded refugees boat in Spain, in which it is reported that half of the passengers died. It’s Paul’s sad eyes and shaking hands that make Preuss want to help him: He accompanies Paul on his journey through Europe, a trip that leads Paul from Spain to France and eventually to Germany.


How far should a filmmaker go?

© Weydemann Bros. David Boiseeaux-Chical

Arriving in Germany, Preuss finds himself conflicted. How far should a filmmaker interfere in his protagonist’s life? A turning point in the story’s narrative. Preuss lets Paul live with Preuss parents. From now on Paul is residing at the place where Preuss grew up, he gets help with his asylum documents. A transition from an un-innvolved, objectively documentating director to being a friend who helps Paul actively.

Its’s a remarkable balance between closeness and professional distance that Preuss creates within the story-line of the movie. His personal intervention and open interaction with his own role was unplanned but creates a whole new narrative dimension, which makes this movie so extra ordinary.

Paul takes full advantage of his newly gained perspectives in Germany. Today, he has a job and earns his livelihood on his own. ‚This film project lets me hope for more sympathy by the people around me. After everything I went thorugh, I try to begin a life. I hope that this film creates new perspectives for the audience and that it will help to cut back prejudices concerning migrants. This film is an important step towards seeing us migrants as individuals who went through a lot to flee from war and lack of perspectives and that we try to contribute in a positive way to everyday life in this society‘, recounts Paul.

The approach to show the story of Millions of refugees via an individual fate easens the access to this complex topic. One of the essential topics of our time: A Europe full of borders to the outside. This point of narrative manages to give the migration issue a face – Paul’s face.

I experienced the Berlin Wall . The topic borders and setting limits accompanied me since then. – Director Jakob Preuss

A film project with a meaningful message

What this movie seeks to effect inside the viewer? ‚WHEN PAUL CAME OVER THE SEE is intended to communicate a message, a political one. Some people could be sustainably effected by this film. It could set a frame to reflect about the meaning of fleeing in a more multifaceted context. Asylum politics are one of the key aspects in the current parlamential elections. The movie has the ability to create new perspectives. As privileged Europeans, a lot of people cannot relate to refugees. We hope that this project reveals a new discussion frame and creates open access to that topic‘, explains Preuss.

© Weydemann Bros. Juan Sarmiento G.

WHEN PAUL CAME OVER THE SEA is a project about beginning new. Preuss accompanied his new freinds on his journey for more than two years. A quest for a new existence; a new life with an uncertain future.

The film was awarded with a number of prizes, among them the Golden Goblet Award as Best Documentary at the 20th Shanghai International Film Festival. With WHEN PAUL CAME OVER THE SEA director Jakob Preuss created a touching piece of art, for which now is the right time.

WHEN PAUL CAME OVER THE SEA premieres at 31st August in selected cinemas. You can take a glipse at the trailer here: