Slaven Vlasic/ Getty Images for HBO
Slaven Vlasic/ Getty Images for HBO

It Will Be Chaos Directors Discuss the Challenges of Depicting Trauma

Filippo Piscopo and Lorena Luciano’s It Will Be Chaos follows the highly personal stories of several refugees as they make their way from their homelands into Europe. In a panel discussion, the filmmakers spoke about what they hoped to achieve in the film.


What should a filmmaker do in the face of a humanitarian crisis? According to Lorena Luciano, “Be ethical and be brave and tell the story that is unsung.” Luciano and fellow It Will Be Chaos director Filippo Piscopo were joined by refugee advocates Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams (Emergency Response Coordinator, UN Refugee Agency) and Radha Rajkotia (Senior Director for Economic Recovery and Development, International Rescue Committee) on a panel discussion following a screening of their film. Together, the group discussed the challenges of adequately and respectfully depicting the crisis, the power of stories that appear on screen and the ways in which individuals can make a difference.

Piscopo spoke frankly about the film’s opening, which documents the aftermath of a 2013 shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa during which 367 refugees died. He explained his own emotional reaction to filming the scene, calling it “one of the most intense moments” of his life. “Imagine yourself landing in Lampedusa, which is the epicenter of the refugee crisis,” he said, “and witnessing a scene like this in which there is a mounting chaos and all the people are hit by immense grief and pain.”

Luciano further elaborated upon the balancing act she and Piscopo embarked upon. “You are immersed in this grief,” she acknowledged. “At the same time, as a documentary filmmaker, you want to respect their grief but you have to tell the story.”

Ghedini-Williams said she faces a similar struggle in her work at the UN Refugee Agency. “It is very difficult to strike that balance,” she said, “between how you maintain that emotional connection and try to portray, in a way that’s honest and dignified and true, the story of refugees, but also remind people of the legal and moral context in which we’re working.”

Rajkotia has witnessed the crisis through the International Rescue Committee (IRC). She observed that the diversity of perspective included in the film helps to tell this story. While the film follows the journeys of refugees from multiple countries, it also highlights voices from European populations as well. “There have been many films about refugees, and often they take one perspective, ” Rajkotia said. “I think what’s so well done here is that you find yourself being enormously empathetic to so many of the characters.”

This focus on multiple voices and experiences was no accident. As Piscopo explained, “We were very close to the dramatic situation, and at the same time we understood that not only one person or one character could tell the immensity of the crisis and what was happening.”

When faced with a large-scale humanitarian crisis, Luciano noted that each individual has to identify their own capacity to provide aid. “We can make a change within our realm of expertise,” she said. “You have moments where you’re like people are dying, people are suffering, there’s an obligation, I want to help in that. You have to step back and remember ‘I’m the filmmaker.’ I have to do my job the best way possible.”

For Luciano, the filmmaker’s role in all of this was clear: “Be ethical and be brave and tell the story that is unsung.” In her closing remarks for the evening’s event, Luciano reminded the audience, “I think in each of us, if we bring together all our synergy, we can make an immense change.”

It Will Be Chaos premieres June 18 at 8 p.m.