Dashing through the summer storms, an eager gathering huddled inside Barbican Cinema 3 for the London premier of Vladamir Tomic’s ‘Flotel Europa’.
On this, the night of the EU referendum, the topic of this 70 minute piece of art film could not have been more relevant. Documenting in charming style, the piece focuses on the lives of those aboard Flotel Europa, a giant modified ship used by the Red Cross in Denmark during the 1992 war in Bosnia and Herzegovinia to house displaced refugees. The ship, an incredible piece of retrofit architecture, docked in Copenhagen’s canal and became a temporary home for over 1,000 people as they awaited the processing of the asylum applications. For some, Flotel became home for over two years.
The film, created entirely from homemade VHS footage shot at the time by various inhabitants of the ship, captures both the happiness and suffering of those on board. Safe from the war, those aboard Flotel remain in a state of waiting; waiting for updates from home, waiting for news of their loved ones arriving safely in Europe, waiting for news of their loved ones falling victim to the war, waiting for some insight into what their future might be.
As time passed, the residents, as humans do, began to occupy their small living spaces with objects, items and decorations. People started to bring character to their spaces. Children stuck photos of their grandparents to their walls. Teenage boys hung naughty posters in their bedrooms. As the months progressed, people began to realise returning to Bosnia was not to be and that Flotel was to be their home for quite some time.
The true nature of community shines strong within this piece. In the most unnatural of environments, a giant metal village floating on water, community continues. Touching shots, all filmed by residents of Flotel show parents caring for their families, children fighting, people cooking together, eating together, dancing together, and of course teenage boys causing mischief and flirting with girls!
As Europe today reacts to the current refugee crisis, can lessons be learnt from Flotel? As camps in Calais grow and more temporary housing solutions are needed, how can Europe accommodate safely and comfortable those in need of aid?
Architecture Foundation’s Architecture of Film series continues with ‘On the Town’ + ‘NY, NY’ on 13 July.