The moving and powerful story of one man's lonely fight to try and free his seven grandchildren from a refugee camp in Syria, Children of the Enemy is a remarkable and provocative film. The story is well known in Sweden due children’s somewhat notorious father, but the film shines a much needed spotlight on the dilemma of innocent children from radicalised families who are often ignored by governments who don’t want to political flack involved in doing the right thing.
If this had been a Hollywood fiction version of the story, grandfather Patricio Galvez would have been a macho figure working up numerous plans to cross borders, sneak into the camp and spirit the youngsters out of the country. The stark truth is that for Patricio it involved a lot of waiting in hotels rooms, listening to excuses from governments and support organisations and drumming up media attention to try and keep his plight in the headlines.
There is drama for sure….but it is simply around an unassuming man still carrying guilt about a daughter he has lost who wants to try and do his modest best for seven innocent children.
Gorki Glaser-Muller’s absorbing film is straightforward in structure and tone and wisely never does more than follow Patricio Galvez through his emotionally harrowing journey. Glaser-Muller could have gone all out with noisy archive footage, vibrant graphics and sentimental voice-overs, but instead he focuses on what appears on the surface as a relatively mundane journey but is in fact a massive emotional undertaking.
The film opens with Patricio looking at photographs of his grandchildren before his daughter Amanda stopped sending over images. She and her mother had converted, when he was separated from them, but Amanda became radicalised after she married fellow Swede Michael Skråmo, who went on to became a high-profile and notorious ISIS-supporter recruiting for the terrorist group through social media.
Their radicalisation led them to move to Syria in 2014 to join ISIS. The couple brought their four small children with them to Raqqa and had three more children there. Both Amanda and Michael were killed in the beginning of 2019 in the final battles, leaving behind their seven children, aged between one and eight years old and living in the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria. It is a camp originally built for9,000 people but now housing almost 80,000, mainly children.
At home in Gothenburg, the 50-year-old Swedish-Chilean Patricio has one mission: to get them out. A mild-mannered musician with a heart problem he simply says: ”To think my daughter joined this terrorist cult is horrible. ”After meeting with Clive Stafford Smith of Human Rights League he finds all the children are alive and in Camp al-Hol. The Swedish government offers little assistance, but he decides to fly to Erbil, the Kurdistan region of Iraq near the Syrian border in 2019 and try and find a way to get the children to safety.
The film follows his lonely moments in hotel rooms, surrounded by toys and clothes he has bought the children, as he embarks on a series of media interviews; meetings with refugee agencies and repeated phone calls to the Swedish consulate.
During a 45-day-long journey through Iraq to Syria, the film details the story of what happened to his daughter Amanda. His fight to reach the children forces him to navigate a minefield of changing moods among the media and politicians. It is a delicate balance, but eventually one that succeeds as he finally receives a phone call that the children have been brought across the border and he can take them. A further twists sees Amanda’s mother arrive at the hotel, leading to conflict and concern her appearance could have a worrying impact on the children.
A happy ending of sorts sees Patricio and the children fly back to Sweden…and but they are to be looked after by the authorities there with no guarantee they will all be kept together.
Sweden-Denmark-Qatar, 2021, 95mins
Dir/screenplay Gorki Glaser-Muller
Production Cinenic Film, Film I Vast, SVT, Toolbox Film, GGMFilm, One Night Picture
International sales Cinephil
Producers Kristofer Henell, Erika Malmgren
Cinematography Gorki Glaser-Muller
Editors Kasper Leick, Asa Mossberg, Soren B. Ebbe, Erika Gonzales
Music Lisa Nordstrom
(First published in Doc Business Europe)