Adversity can either strengthen relationships or destroys them. Batata argues for the former, as it follows a Syrian migrant worker for a decade. Back in 2009, that worker, Maria, and her family, would leave her home town on Raqqa, Syria, to go to Lebanon, where the slightly higher wages can support her family for a year. She’s a middle aged Muslim who works for Mousa. Mousa runs a farm that produces things like potatoes, artichokes, and parsley.
All of that changes when the Arab Spring begins two years later, which cascades into the Syrian Civil War. This forces the Lebanese-Syrian border to close for business. Since Mousa’s farm is technically useless, he and Maria turn it into a refugee camp for all of her relatives. All of this requires work. There’s the hope, then, that both of them withstand the crisis and that the war will be over soon.
Documentaries about the Syrian refugee crisis do not need ‘aesthetics’. Batata depicts Maria trying to arrange accommodations for all of her family and more. Its increasing amount of subjects clutter the camera as they organize meeting in tents made of plywood. The documentary is long, and one can only imagine how hard the editors worked to put a decade into more than two hours. There’s also some problems with the narration which feels necessary yet conventional. Nonetheless, the documentary’s earlier scenes also set up the political situation before the Arab Spring started. It lets us imagine what would have happened had these tensions were just tensions. And if viewers are looking for the breadth of human experience, they’ll find that here. There’s a universality to the emotions that the documentary captures. Maria and her family watch the news, their emotions transitioning from shock to cynicism, and again, maybe hope.
Watch Batata on Hot Docs’ streaming platform.