Launched today to mark the UN’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, UNHCR’s latest campaign, The Journey, tells the dramatised story of a female refugee who has had to flee her home to escape conflict and persecution.

The film, created by award-winning creative agency Don’t Panic, shows that the arduous journey to freedom isn’t an easy one, as her life is constantly on the line. Eventually, having reached safety, she stops running away from something and starts running towards something; a medal.

Working with directing collective Pantera at Anonymous Content, Don’t Panic wanted to ensure the film was an “accurate portrayal of a refugee’s journey”, grounded in real-life stories. So they worked closely with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to collaborate with two of the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders to make sure the “real experiences of those who have been forced to flee their homes were woven into the narrative”. In fact, Rose Lokonyen and Asif Sultani were consulted at every phase of production. As Rose puts it, “The story of ‘The Journey’ is similar to my own and that of my fellow refugee athletes. I’m training hard in the hope to get to Tokyo. I want to help people everywhere better understand the lives of refugees and the power sport can have to change lives.”

As you watch the film unfold, you also understand the importance of sound as it really hits home the different environments, such as the conflict in the opening scene. “It allows the viewer to make a deep human connection with the protagonist; her deep breaths bringing intimacy to the scale of the journey,” explains the agency.

Rick Dodds from Don’t Panic adds: “One of our biggest challenges creatively was to make an emotionally impactful film, whilst keeping the protagonist anonymous. We chose to show only her legs, as this allows our film to be representative of many refugees’ journeys. Emotion so often comes from a person’s face, their expression, the look in their eyes, the words they say and with this film, we simply had a pair of legs. We also quickly realised that we couldn’t have her running in every single scene as the film would only have one note. So the choreography of her movements, when she’s walking, turning, stopping, sitting, became our most vital tool to create emotion.”

There are currently over 60 refugee Para athletes and athletes training in the hope of competing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic and Paralympic Games. UNHCR, in partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC), supports the current refugee athletes who – despite the challenges of displacement and the Covid-19 pandemic – continue to train to keep their dreams of competing in Tokyo alive.

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