TIFF 2015: Stars discuss migrant crisis as films reflect refugee issues

Refugees and migrants wait to pass from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Refugees and migrants wait to pass from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos

The European migrant crisis has been a hot topic at the Toronto International Film Festival, with many stars eager to talk about the plight of the world’s refugees and disenfranchised people.

“This is very, very bad what’s happening and … people are trying to look the other way, as if it’s not going to affect the whole world,” said Salma Hayek in an interview for Septembers of Shiraz, in which she plays a mother and wife who wants to flee Iran with her family in the wake of the 1979 revolution.

The Oscar-nominated Mexico native, who co-founded Chime for Change, a global campaign to raise funds and awareness for girls and women globally, said she’s also been working with Syrian refugees for three years.

She recently recorded a video urging British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande to welcome “a fair share” of asylum seekers into the U.K. and France.

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“You have to imagine, right now there are four million refugees just between Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan,” Hayek said.

“These three countries don’t have oil … they have a lot of political, economical problems.”

WATCH: Refugees, migrants seek new route through Croatia

Helping the sea of refugees will benefit all, she added, noting that when the migrants return to their countries, they will have “a different perspective, having been outside.”

“To see Europe and America not as evil but maybe as somebody who will lend a helping (hand) and maybe learn, to try to understand who we are, and maybe we can learn some things from them, too,” said Hayek.

“If we don’t help them, what is the option? This is very fertile ground for ISIS.”

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Meanwhile, Idris Elba noted his film Beasts of No Nation feels “quite timely” with its look at children forced to fight alongside a warlord in an unnamed West African country where refugees are fleeing a civil war.

“These are problems that have been around us for a long time and should be fixed,” he said. “This film addresses that.

“The reason why there were these factions and these wars … is because people are poor and people want to revolt against that.”

True Detective Emmy-winning director Cary Fukunaga, who helmed Beasts of No Nation, said if we don’t protect children in peril then “there is no future of humanity.”

“That’s just a basic biological fact. In terms of our functionability as a human society, as a collective culture, when we rob our children of their childhood, then we have adults who have incomplete development.”

Images like the recent one of a young Syrian boy’s body washed up on a beach feel “criminal in terms of the natural laws of humanity,” he added.

Quebec actress Suzanne Clement, who is at the fest with Philippe Falardeau’s French-language political comedy My Internship in Canada, was among several stars who said the Canadian government should welcome more refugees.

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“We’re all human and I think being blessed with enough food, enough health, enough food, enough space, enough water…. I think we are very able to (do more).”

Quebec actor Patrick Huard, who plays an idealistic MP in the film, echoed her sentiments.

“We should welcome more people. We have what it takes to welcome them…. Let’s be honest, we have money, we have space, we have territory, we have water — which we never talk about but someday people will have to fly here anyway, because there’s no more space and no more water for everybody,” Huard said.

“So why not start to organize it the best way we could and (do) it gradually, so we can live together and learn from each other?”

— With files from Canadian Press reporter Cassandra Szklarski.

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