A group of random migrants from West Africa destined for Europe stop at “The Last Shelter” on the edge of the Sahel Desert (that transitions into the Sahara) before continuing their journey toward a better life.
Here at “La Maison du Migrants” in Mali they are confronted by a kindly social worker who urges them to return home, explaining that it is admirable that they had gotten this far but many die in the harsh desert conditions beyond. His agency promises them a bus ride back home.
While counseling two sixteen year-old girls from Burkina Faso he pleads with them to reconsider by explaining that even if they do get to Algeria they will likely find no employment and will be forced into prostitution. In a meeting with the others he tells them of his own experience of being cheated of his wages and treated with contempt.
One of the girls reveals how Facebook (and certainly other social media) fuel discontent and spur the hopes of young migrants who see friends and acquaintances who have successfully made the journey. For fifteen or twenty year-olds who hate their life, hardship and even death are abstract ideas that do little to dissuade them.
This is an all too common tale taking place around the world as young people seek a better life, freedom and more opportunity. This story could be told not only in Africa but in nearly any country throughout the Middle-East and South or Central America as well as Mexico. For many, Europe is a fine destination, but their hope is the ultimate lottery win of reaching the United States.
“The Last Shelter” focuses primarily on the two young girls. Ester says she had hopes of acting, singing or boxing. She chose the latter because she admits having a lot of anger and feels boxing would be a way to release her frustrations. Her friend expresses hopes of being a teacher or doctor because she wants to help people. During their respite in the shelter she is the one who encourages Ester to study English as they work on simple phrases.
The film is sensitively photographed by director/cinematographer Ousmane Samassekou and Amath Niane. It shines with intimate close-ups and beautiful b-roll of the desert sunrise and evocative cutaways of the shelter’s inspiring blue painted interior. The shots are reminiscent of a beach cabana that belies otherwise minimal accommodations and the hot, dry reality outside its doors.
The story is expertly constructed by Samassekou with editor Céline Ducreux to tell a compelling, important and compassionate human story that sheds light on the motivations and desires of migrating individuals.
The Last Shelter is a U.S. Premier presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival. Online viewing is available. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.
LANGUAGE : Bambara, French, Fula, Hausa, Mooré, Susu, Waama with English subtitles