Documentary filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki spent three weeks with a coast guard captain from the Greek island of Lesbos who suddenly found himself charged with saving thousands of refugees who crossed into his waters. Said Matziaraki:
Each day, thousands of refugees crossed the water on tiny, dangerous inflatable rafts. Most of the passengers, sometimes including whoever was operating the boat, had never seen the sea. Often a motor would stall and passengers would be stranded for hours, floating tenuously on a cold, volatile sea. Or the bottom of a dinghy would simply tear away and all the passengers would be cast into the water. The coast guard felt completely abandoned, they told me, as if the world had left them to handle a huge humanitarian crisis — or allow thousands to drown offshore.
I followed a coast guard captain for three weeks as he pulled family after family, child after child, from the ocean and saved their lives. All the ones in this film were shot on a single day, October 28, 2015. Two additional rescues happened that same day but were not included.
The film debuted in September 2016 on NYTimes.com as part of the organization’s Op-Docs series. This week it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
In making this film, I was struck by the fine lines that separate us, the moments when our paths cross fleetingly, and we look at one another for the first time and sometimes for the last. This film shows that crucial moment between life and death, where regardless of political beliefs, fears or preparation, some people will go beyond themselves to save a stranger.