Last night saw the first episode of a new BBC2 series which follows the journeys of 70 refugees as they aim to leave conflict or persecution and make their way into Europe.
Exodus: Our Journey to Europe was produced in partnership with The Open University, with three leading OU academics acting as consultants on the programme. Much of the footage was shot over the course of a year by the refugees themselves. Armed with smartphones, they were able to capture intimate moments as they prepared for a dangerous sea crossing in a dinghy, as well as other challenges as they attempt to travel into Europe.
The first episode has been warmly received by critics, with The Guardian calling it “ambitious, necessary, and devastating documentary-making.”
The Daily Telegraph labelled it “an astonishingly intimate, and at times palpably scary, portrait of desperation.” Its review went on to describe some of the more surprising insights offered by the documentary:
None of this was easy viewing. But it was often surprising. Isra’a and her family lived not in a camp but an apartment in Izmir. Smart phones were not luxuries but essential tools for route finding, weather forecasting, organising, meeting.
The importance of mobile phones to refugees has been studied extensively by Professor Marie Gillespie, one of the OU academics who worked with producers to offer guidance and expertise.
“Most extraordinary television”
Viewers also took to social media to express their views. Former BBC newsreader Alice Arnold tweeted:
#Exodus is the most extraordinary television..PLEASE PLEASE watch it and spread the word…so important to see these stories…
— Alice Arnold (@alicearnold1) July 11, 2016
With #Exodus trending on Twitter as the first episode neared an end, the majority of users praised the boldness of the programme:
— Gemma Mitchell (@mitchell_gem) July 12, 2016
#Exodus is one of the most striking documentaries I've ever seen. It's a 3 part series, it's on iPlayer, please watch the Syrian journey
— Ash (@aislingmm10) July 11, 2016
Viewers are also able to share their views on the issues raised in the programme via a discussion hub on the OU’s OpenLearn site. These pages also offer interviews with the programme makers and further features from the OU programme academics around topics such as why smartphones are an essential tool but also a threat for refugees, how the right to seek asylum in the UK has changed over time, and issues of gender and immigration.
The first episode is available to watch again on the BBC iPlayer. The remaining two episodes will be shown on BBC2 at 9pm tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow.