What happens when your future depends on telling your own life story? Four rejected asylum seekers relive the hearing on their reasons for fleeing their homelands thus shedding light on the core of the asylum procedure. Those who succeed in recounting the personal danger in their home country “credibly and without contradiction” have a better chance of receiving asylum. Will the interviewees be able to describe their memories of traumatic experiences in such a way that they meet the official criteria this time?

A simple swapping of roles reverses the balance of power for once, with SEM interviewers answering the questions of the asylum seekers. In this way, THE HEARING not only provides insight into the crucial yet sensitive hearing, but also questions the asylum procedure itself.

Director's Statement

I have been involved in the asylum sector for nine years. I have led a group of 50 volunteers who visit detainees in the deportation detention center in Zurich. As a result, I know the direct consequences of the decisions made by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), especially for people who are refused asylum.

At the center of every asylum procedure is the “hearing on the reasons for flight”, which is conducted by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). This is where the authorities ultimately decide on who is allowed to stay and who is not. Its procedure is known only to a few, because it is not public. Who are the people who conduct these hearings? What questions do asylum seekers have to answer? On the basis of which criteria is the asylum application decided? And how does this decision come about?

In my film, real asylum seekers reenact their asylum hearings, confronted with real employees of the SEM. They all have one thing in common: they had to flee their home country because their lives were threatened, but they were still refused asylum. THE HEARING sheds light on how these decisions are made. None of the protagonists are actors; they are who they show themselves to be. The balance of power is reversed during the course of the film. In a simple swapping of roles, the interviewers of the SEM suddenly begin answering the asylum seekers’ questions. Through this simple reversal, the film not only offers insight into a procedure that is unknown to us, it also subjects it to critical questioning at the same time.

I am particularly interested in the tension between the emotional, difficult life stories and the criteria and methods to which the authorities subject the applicants.

The hearings are clearly regulated. The interviewers prescribe how the asylum seekers must report about events and their own experiences, deciding on what is important and what is not. Often the asylum seekers have never talked about their lives in this way. Not even with people who are close to them. Now they are suddenly sitting “naked” in front of foreign representatives of the authorities who are judging their lives. In the drab rooms in which the hearings take place, descriptions of hardship, of very personal, sometimes existential experiences of one’s own history collide with politically influenced views and the authorities' procedures. People who apply for asylum are forced to look into the abyss of their lives and trigger a bureaucratic process. The film shows both the people who support it and those who are at its mercy.

The four stories of the asylum seekers and the answers of the interviewers show how questionable the system of the asylum hearing is. How is a severely traumatized person supposed to be able to tell their story “without contradiction” as required by law? How accurate can a translation be? How can the danger of class and origin-related misunderstandings be avoided?

Such questions also touch on fundamental issues: Are hearings, as shown in the film, reasonable and the ideal instrument for granting asylum? Do they lead to the hoped-for goals? Can they really clarify who deserves protection? And what does it mean when your future depends on how you tell your story? And beyond that: Can the current concept of the refugee still adequately respond to the diversity of today’s motives for asylum?

I hope that the audience of THE HEARING will think about what they’ve seen and be touched – not only by the way the interviewers do their work, but especially by the strength of the asylum seekers, who have experienced the harshness of the asylum system first hand, who have exposed themselves to it again and are questioning it.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Lisa Gerig

Written by: Lisa Gerig

Main Producer: Eva Vitija, Maurizius Staerkle Drux

Cinematography: Ramon Giger

Editing: Ruth Schlaepfer, Lisa Gerig

Original Score: Martina Berther

Sound: Julian Fuchs

Visual Effects: Ian Oggenfuss

Nominations and Awards

  • Documentary Selection 2023