Feature. Marcel Barrena's new film tells the story of Oscar Camps, who saved hundreds of lives despite the indifference of Europe and the law.

In ‘Open Arms,’ a picture of life-changing solidarity

On September 2015, the whole world was faced with the harsh truth of yet another tragedy with deaths at sea while trying to escape to Europe. This time, it was something that stopped everyone in their tracks: Alan Kurdi, 3 years old, found dead on the beach of Bodrum in Turkey. The photo by Nilüfer Demir was seen around the world, and the German newspaper Bild, following protests, decided to remove it from their newspaper and website. It shocked consciences.

Among them was Oscar Camps, owner of Pro-Activa, a sea rescue company based in Badalona, near Barcelona, who, outraged, decided to leave immediately for the Greek island of Lesbos, to bring professional assistance to those trying to land in their thousands from nearby Turkey. At that time, the Syrian war was causing a Biblical-level exodus. When he arrived, he had a great surprise waiting for him.

He was sure he was just going to be giving other rescuers a professional hand, but he discovered that no one was helping those in danger of drowning; on the contrary, the Coast Guard boat was sporting a water cannon. Amid the hostility of almost everyone, Oscar and his friend and colleague Gerard got busy saving lives. They discovered that the rubber rafts, overloaded, are intentionally pierced, because if you arrive by your own means you are an illegal immigrant, but if you are a shipwreck victim you can ask for asylum.

Oscar’s enterprise seemed hopeless and without prospects. Then he was joined by his daughter Esther and the accountant of the company, and, with a rubber dinghy and two jet skis, risking jail at every point, they fought against the indifference: to the point that on October 28, with the support of Greek fishermen, they saved 242 people, including women, men, children, old people. Desperate human beings, parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, people who have lost everything.

Oscar is indignant at the European Union, which “does not exist, there is only a common market,” and insists that “if you can save a life from the water by holding out your hand and you don’t do it, this is not passivity, it is deliberate inaction, it is murder.”

Open Arms – La Legge del mare, which won the Audience Award at the Rome Film Festival, recounts the story that lies at the origin of Open Arms, the NGO founded by Oscar Camps that in five years has operated 60,000 rescues at sea. The film by Marcel Barrena (in theaters since Thursday, distributed by Adler) tells the story of the genesis of a non-profit association, but above all of the stubborn visionary spirit of its creator, who unfortunately found himself having to choose not who to save, but who not to save.

Such choices were devastating ones. The film first stops when Eduard Fernández, who plays the protagonist, decides not to return to Spain and instead continue the work he began, based in an inn that would later become the place of first aid for castaways and refugees. Although he had his doubts, Oscar decided to allow the photographer Santi Palacios to witness what was happening, because, after all, Open Arms was born from the devastating power of that image of the small, innocent and defenseless body of Alan.

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