Island of Refuge - Documentary Feature Film

by oliver.zimmermann in Lesbos Prefecture

We did it
On 9th June 2016 we successfully raised £1,509 with 31 supporters in 56 days

"Island of Refuge" (#islandofrefuge) is an independent feature length documentary about the refugee crisis on Lesvos, in Greece...

by oliver.zimmermann in Lesbos Prefecture

We are back on Lesvos and this time I put my dog, George, in the van, drove accross Europe and have moved here permanantly!

What is the 'Island of Refuge' project:

"Island of Refuge" (#islandofrefuge) is an independent feature length documentary about the refugee crisis on Lesvos, in Greece. The film has a particular focus on the local people and how they have experienced and are responding to the crisis. I am also taking portrait photographs of the local people on Lesvos and these are available in limited addition in the rewards section. There will be a variety of exhibition opportunities for the film and ultimately my aim is to have "Island of Refuge" seen by as many people as possible as well as being a document summary of this island's iconic moment in history. 

My background and what we need funds for:

I am a filmmaker from Bristol and after shooting and researching the Lesvos refugee subject for the first time in November 2015, I have returned to Lesvos for the third time to carry on recording people's stories and finish the film's post production.

Lesvos just felt like the right place to complete the film for me. In the same way everyone I meet has been inexplicably drawn here I have also been mysteriously called by the island. This campaign is to fund the final expenses of production - like travel and accommodation. We also really want to capture drone footage of the stunning island so we will need to either hire a local team or invite one onto the island.

"Island of Refuge" is an independent film telling the story of the people of Lesvos and anyone who has decided to call it 'home' - a beautiful island set against the backdrop of the refugee crisis. The people here have experienced truly horrific scenes, financial hardship, inspiring encounters and have also done heroic deeds too.

An important film to make:

I am truly passionate about making this film but we do still need your donations to complete it.

In order to do the subject justice I took the time to meet people and integrate into island life. Media coverage has rightly been comprehensive but there is less about the locals who are also dealing with this crisis and have been doing so, even before all the volunteers came to help. They have a unique take on the situation and I believe it is a story that needs telling. 

An island in a crisis and keeping and keeping an open mind:

I am trying to tell this story in a more calm, considered and reflective way - the film has changed from just being a short documentary about two charities, to being more about the people living on Lesvos and the legacy of island in the midst a crisis.

The focus is weighted towards the islanders who were there before this recent massive, influx of refugees and anyone who has now found solace and refuge here and calls it home.

Characters in 'Island of Refuge':

I have met so many amazing people from all over the world on Lesvos. Here are a few of the characters featured in the film and these are also some of the portraits that are available in the rewards section. 




Why I chose this style for the film:

In the midst of the chaos on the beaches some, over zealous media crews who sticking cameras in the faces of naked, crying children made me feel uncomfortable. I do understand the importance of news coverage and am aware that without these images none of the help would have come to the island. But I chose to keep the camera back, locked off and filming mostly on a wide lens - to let the action happen within the frame rather than adding to the chaos that sometimes ensues on the beach as people arrive. I this approach is more representative of the reality and will help to build empathy to the whole situation.

Human stories:

The film is about human stories and interesting characters, it is not aiming to offer a political answer or message beyond documenting what is happening there right now and how people are living their lives on Lesvos. But it will offer insight into how 'ordinary' people can behave in extraordinary times. What also certainly has struck me from a visual point of view is the juxtaposition of beauty of the landscape and the surreal footprint of life jackets, sunken boats and discarded clothes. But life does carry on so it's also about showing just that in terms of documenting a portrait of the island. Things have changed and are constantly changing in terms of the cirsis, the refugees and the island itself - I hope this film will look at the legacy of Lesvos and how it has been centrail and fundamental in affecting change in people's lives. 


My aims for the film:

My aim is that "Island of Refuge" will give people a new window into a well documented crisis, focusing on small stories to show the bigger picture and in that way I believe we can raise awareness about the larger migrant issue. I would like as many people to see the film as possible and we are developing a strategy to maximize the impact the it can have. 

Thank you for your support so far:

A massive thank you to all my friends, family and others who so generously donated over £6000 to the first two trips to Lesvos. I really appreciate every donation and effort to share the fundraising page. 

How you can help:

There was a really amazing response to the trailer and last campaign - and I massively appreciate all your kind words about the film and offers to help. Please donate to the film fund if you can or show others the trailer and ask if they can help. There are a variety of rewards available again. Filmmaking always costs a lot of money but we are only looking for our expenses to be covered at this stage. There are other ways in which you can help as well. For example if you have ideas about promotion, marketing and exhibition once the film is complete then please get in touch via the Facebook page. Would love to hear from you!

We also need to shoot aerial drone footage of the island in 4K. If you have any contacts or are a drone team interested in our film please get in touch. 

Crew and collaborators:

"Island of Refuge" is very privaleged  to have the help and support of talented friends and filmmakers who have given their time, equipment and money to the project.  

Woody James

My good friend and talented documentary cinematographer with came with us to Lesvos for the whole month of January.

"I've done a great deal of 'run and gun' type shooting - but I'm really inspired by cinematic documentaries- blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. I pride myself on smooth, fluid camera movements, careful use of lighting to achieve the desired look, and having an eye for cinematic composition. I'm also a competent editor, which means I know exactly what an editor will need to make good, powerful sequences.

I love shooting documentaries- learning about and documenting different cultures and communities" - Woody

Check out his other awesome work here:

Jacob Parish

Jacob is another great friend and amazing filmmaker. He came to Lesvos for almost two months from the end of March  and edited the eight minute extended trailer and also shot some new material for the film.


"I see editing as a collaborative journey, helping the director shape the story. Neither of us have all the answers but together we come to realise what our story is about and how we should present it." - Jacob

To see Jacob's other work check out:


Catarina Oliveira 

Catarina will be coming out to Lesvos after June to edit the final feature. Catarina also edited the original teaser trailer that had an amazing response and was viewed thousands of times. She is also one of my close friends.


"I have worked internationally and across a variety of genres on over a hundred projects, both independently and in collaboration with production companies and broadcasters. I’ve also been involved in various audiovisual projects dealing with international development issues – I’ve dealt with topics such as female genital mutilation and gender violence in the UK, access to information and technology in rural Africa, human rights in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank, and post-conflict reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Please have look at Catarina's other work here:


The original teaser trailer:

This is the original teaser trailer edited from the footage I shot back in November 2015 - I hope you can see how I have maintained this vision in terms of a cinematic style - a reflective tone and a calmer way to document an island that found itself in the middle of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today. 

Island of Refuge - Trailer from Zed Productions on Vimeo.




This project offers rewards in return for your donation.

£5 or more

£5 Reward

A big thank you for believing in our film! Even a small donation contributes to the overall cost of making t'Island of Refuge'. We really appreciate your support! Remember the film will be available for everyone to view when we eventually release it online. The more people that see this film the better.

£14 or more

10 of 1000 claimed

£14 Reward

A ticket to a special online preview of screening of "Island of Refuge". Many thanks! We appreciate your support!

£35 or more

£35 Reward

Authored DVD of the film "Island of Refuge".

£50 or more

£50 Reward

Deluxe authored DVD of "Island of Refuge". This deluxe version of the DVD includes a jewel case and printed art work by Prague based designers SÜD.

£75 or more

£75 Reward

Large printed "Island of Refuge" poster by Prague based designers SÜD.

£100 or more

£100 Reward

Exclusive invitation to the cinema screening of 'Island of Refuge' at an independent cinema - locations are currently pencilled in Bristol, Berlin, Amsterdam and Molyvos (Lesvos). Followed by Q and A with the director, cinematographer and editor. Transport can unfortunately not be provided to the event.

£200 or more

0 of 100 claimed

£200 Reward

Large printed portrait photograph of one of the characters from the island of Lesbos. Ten exclusive portrait photographs of ten characters on the island are available, signed by photographer and director of the film, Oliver Zimmermann.

£500 or more

1 of 97 claimed

£500 Reward

Large printed portrait and framed photograph of one of the characters from the island of Lesbos. Ten exclusive portrait photographs of ten characters on the island are available, signed by photographer and director of the film, Oliver Zimmermann.

£1,000 or more

£1,000 Reward

This levels of donation will be rewarded with an online preview screening 'Island of Refuge', a delux authored DVD, a large film poster, an invitation to the premiere and a very special thanks in the credits.

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