Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway


Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym), a 36-year-old high-achieving academic, grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen — his close friend and high-school classmate, he tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan. Through heartfelt interviews between Jonas and Amin, FLEE tells an unforgettable story of self-discovery. Showing how only by confronting the past it is possible to carve out a future, and the universal truth that only when you stop fleeing from who you are you can find the true meaning of home.

Director's Statement

Filmmaker and radio documentarian Jonas Poher Rasmussen met his friend Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym) in the 90s when Amin moved to the small town where Jonas grew up. He first encountered the well-dressed newcomer on a local train when they were middle school students - with very few immigrants Amin stood out in the crowd. Without knowing the full scope of Amin’s backstory, Jonas saw an Afghani immigrant who acclimated well to Denmark through a strong work ethic and great social skills. Unaware until much later that his friend’s journey to adulthood was an extraordinary story like no other. Beginning with the death of his father in Kabul when he was a young child, and continuing in Moscow, when members of his family made several harrowing attempts to resettle in Western Europe, Amin’s childhood was defined by periods of waiting, hoping — and fleeing.

After high school, Jonas started making radio documentaries and he and Amin spoke about working together on a story about Amin’s past, but Amin wasn’t yet ready to come to terms with his experiences — too much pain and heartbreak remained lodged beneath the surface, and he feared for both his own safety and that of his family, so they left the idea knowing that they would re-visit it when the time felt right.

During a documentary-animation workshop in 2013 Jonas realized how he could help Amin tell his story in a way that felt safe.

“Amin wanted to come to terms with his past — because all the trauma associated with his childhood was creating distance between everyone in his life, not being able to share his full self had become a heavy burden for Amin. But he also wanted to share his story to make people understand what it means to flee for your life” says Jonas, “The animation made Amin feel comfortable with getting his story out, we could use his real voice in the film, but he could still remain anonymous. Which was also important for Amin as he has family who moved back to Afghanistan and he wants to respect their privacy too.”

By utilizing this unique format Amin and Jonas could together tell this important story, and vividly to show people the trauma that comes before refugees arrive “safely” in a new country. The time also felt right and mature, as Jonas, like Amin, was in a serious relationship, reaching a point of settling down and laying the past to rest.

Jonas approached producer Monica Hellström at the Danish based multi-Oscar® nominated company Final Cut for Real. Together they started developing the story and conducting preliminary interviews with Amin.

Jonas and his development team envisioned two very different styles of animation to frame Amin’s story. In script form, the movie centers on a man looking back on the early years of his life, examining the traumatic events that shaped him as a young immigrant who went on to become a successful academic. Having repressed many of these memories, ones too painful to recall, Jonas envisioned using animation styles that reflected his different states of mind.

“I wanted to make these episodes, and these experiences, come to life through scenes rather than talking heads — animation takes this kind of storytelling to another level in terms of the creative possibilities to tell this previous life.”

The bulk of FLEE employs conventional 2D color animation to show true-to-life happenings in Amin’s past framed as vivid snapshots of his early years — the memories of what happened to him in life. Other sequences, in more graphic and abstract, correspond with traumatic events in his life that he struggles to recall, including harrowing scenes of his family fleeing Moscow as trafficked refugees.

For the animated sequences, Jonas together with Producer Monica Hellström and Final Cut for Real approached the Copenhagen-based Sun Creature Studio. He was impressed by the different styles of animation the company employed in previous projects and by the focus on the emotional journey of characters in the company’s narrative-driven work.

With FLEE, a group of filmmakers in collaboration at every level of production work came together to tell the story of one man struggling to find the true definition and meaning of home. After many years, Amin finds it in the form of a loving partner, a meaningful profession — and an actual home, in the Danish countryside.

“So many people in the world are looking for a place to call home, and Amin’s been trying to do that for his entire life,” says Rasmussen. “As someone who is always moving from one place to another and never feeling rooted in one spot, I realized during the making of this film that he still didn’t have a home. He was somehow still on the run. But finally, being able to open up and telling his full story made him come to terms with his past, the guilt over the sacrifices his family had to do for Amin to have a good life. Alongside the process with the long interviews during the years of filmmaking – Amin realized he was ready to settle down. He could live with the traumas of his past, and be at peace in the present, a whole person.”

Director's Biography

Jonas Poher Ramussen (writer, director) is a Danish/French film director born in 1981. He debuted in 2006 with the acclaimed TV documentary SOMETHING ABOUT HALFDAN, followed by a series of radio documentaries from around the world. He graduated from the Danish film school Super16 in 2010.

His feature film debut SEARCHING FOR BILL, a mix of documentary and fiction, won him the Nordic Dox award at CPH:DOX, and the international competition prize at DocAviv.

In November 2015 he premiered his latest documentary WHAT HE DID, which won the prestigious Fipresci (Int. Federation of Film Critics) at Thessaloniki Film Fest 2016.

His new film FLEE, an animated documentary about a close friend, was officially selected for Cannes 2020 but premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2021 due to the pandemic.

2021 - FLEE, documentary
2015 - WHAT HE DID, documentary
2012 - SEARCHING FOR BILL, documentary
2010 - ET HUS AF GLAS, short
2009 - THE DAY AFTER, short
2008 - CLOSED DOORS, short
2006 - SOMETHING ABOUT HALFDAN, documentary
2003 - EASA 2002: A JOURNEY TO VIS, documentary short

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Written by: Amin Nawabi, Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Produced by: Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Charlotte De La Gournerie, Jean-François Le Corre, Mathieu Courtois, Charlotte Most, Maria Ekerhovd

Editing: Janus Billeskov Jansen

Production Design: Jess Nicholls

Original Score: Uno Helmerson

Sound: Tormod Ringnes

Animation: Charlotte De La Gournerie

Nominations and Awards

  • European University Film Award 2021
  • European Animated Feature Film 2021
  • European Documentary 2021
  • LUX Audience Award 2022
  • Documentary Selection 2021