On 21st November 2011 a documentary, ‘The Strangers Within: a portrait of the Roma’, was screened; a film that captured personal accounts and snapshots of events and struggles of the Roma Gypsy community within Europe.
In the summer of 2009, a group of innovative filmmakers travelled through Romania performing clown theatre to various Romani communities. This proved to be an effective approach to gaining the trust and comfort from a community that has had to harden themselves over centuries of neglect and persecution. The documentary uncovered the reality behind a culture shrouded in stereotype and managed to gain countless stories and experiences of a population with an immensely alluring heritage.
For a fairly low budget production the film was made, edited and executed very well, portraying the lives of several Roma families and their daily struggles. In countries where the population is apparent, Roma’s are still on the fringes of society. The documentary highlighted that Roma’s, though they have been citizens of many countries for at least a century, still, for the fear of discrimination, refuse to identify themselves as Roma or Gypsy. Their children rarely gain education above the 8th grade and job opportunities are restricted to manual or work as self-taught musicians and entertainers.
One rather interesting observation must be noted; lifestyle of Roma’s has a perplexing resemblance to that of villagers in the Indian subcontinent; this may not be too much of a surprise since Roma’s originated from India, some 600 years ago. From their beliefs and mannerisms to the way they interact with people, for instance:
- There are moments where it appears each only thinks for themselves – seen from a very interesting conversation by a man who is explaining his occupation as a musician and is irritated by another when he tries to contribute to the conversation – and yet at the same time nothing is more important to them than family ties.
- A woman dresses modestly and has the role of a homemaker whereas a man brings food to the table. This is not to be questioned nor is there any room for being breadwinners jointly.
- The preparation of marriage commences as early as 15, for both boys and girls and children are seen to join the family business as early as 13.
The documentary was certainly an eye-opener with clips of beautiful Romanian sceneries and snapshots of families finding joy in the simplest of things; it did not beg the audience of sympathy but showed the reality of how a group of humans are treated in such an inhumane manner. And thus, it pulls at the audiences heartstrings, in the hopes of igniting a desire to allow the Roma’s their basic human rights.
Despite how the world has chosen to see the Roma’s there is something admirable in the way they have managed to preserve their traditions. They, like every other person, are intelligent bodies with much to offer and if given the chance, much they can achieve.
An intriguing film which I would highly recommend others to watch.
Images from production stills.