Entertainment » Movies

Birds of the Borderlands

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Apr 17, 2019
'Birds of the Borderland'
'Birds of the Borderland'  

When the camera starts rolling on "Birds of the Borderlands," it is initially hard to work out if Australian genderqueer filmmaker /activist Jordan Bryon is foolhardy, brave, or equal parts of both. Bryon - who prefers to use the pronouns they, them, and their - took it upon themself on a whim to up and move to the country they had been named after. Their planned three-month stay in Amman stretched to 18 months, and they actually spent the next five years flitting all over the Middle East, getting immersed in the lives of several LGBTQ people whose sexuality was creating major problems for them.

Most of Bryon's documentary subjects couldn't allow their faces to be shown on camera, out of concern not only for their own safety but also for the safety of the families they had left. In most of the region, a child's homosexuality, if discovered, is considered a major dishonor on the entire family, and it can result in them being shunned by society or, even worse, be attacked.

One of these was an Iraqi called Youssef who had to flee Baghdad in a hurry after witnessing the horrific murder of his boyfriend. Bryon took him in as their roommate, and he is now in an interminable limbo waiting for refugee status, which could (and does) takes years to process. Their apartment also becomes a safe haven for others, such as a young teenage trans woman named Hiba, who has run away from home. She is the only one who is keen on showing her face on the screen as she says, "I'm tired of being invisible. I want to stand up and be seen and be heard."

However, when Hiba's Bedouin family trick her into going back, the incident turns dangerous and scary; Bryon also gets kidnapped.

Another member of their small clique is the feminist lesbian Rasha, who is braver than most and whom Bryon begins to date. This blurs their role in the film, which fluctuates between friend and lover to strident activist, besides now being part of the story whilst also actively hustling for support to establish a safe house for all LGBTQ folk.

One of their side trips was to Beirut to meet up with Khalaf, an articulate gay Imam turned activist who had to leave Iran to escape death and is now holed up in a hotel room, unable to go out and waiting for asylum in Canada.

Life is often very scary for Bryon, who seems okay with pushing themself to the limit. There are threats from the Jordanian Secret Service, who gave Bryon orders to leave the country for good. This shook them up, although not as much as the violent outburst that Youssuf eggs on one day, out of sheer frustration at living a confined life on the margins of a society that only wishes him harm.

The tales of these "birds of the borderlands," trapped in environments and countries where they are not allowed to be themselves, is a sharp reminder that there are still many places in the world where being queer is not an option society will tolerate. It also makes us realize how brave Bryon is in getting these stories out - and maybe more than a little foolhardy, too.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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