Exploring the asylum seeker experience: Ayaan screens at the Sydney Film Festival


Exploring the asylum seeker experience: Ayaan screens at the Sydney Film Festival

Courage, trust and the refugee experience are just a few of the themes explored in Alies Sluiter’s short film Ayaan. Screening at the Sydney Film Festival 2020, Ayaan tells the story of an escaped asylum seeker travelling with her baby in remote Australia.

When she encounters an Indigenous man, she must decide whether to trust him and ask for help, or whether to continue on her 400km journey alone.

Director and screenwriter Alies Sluiter was inspired by her own grandmother’s story, who was in the Netherlands during World War 2. A bike trip to collect food with her best friend for their children turned into tragedy when they came face to face with soldiers. The soldiers fired at the women, and Alies’ grandmother was forced to keep riding.

“She never saw her friend again. I just remember her telling me that she was forced to make a choice, and that choice was to not look back and try to stay alive,” Alies explained.



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Alies has long been interested in Australia’s place in the world and the challenges faced by migrants and asylum seekers. She is passionate about telling stories from multiple angles that encourage the audience to question.

Alies incorporates both Somali and the Indigenous Pitjantjatjara language into her film.

“I just feel that it’s really time white Australia interrogates our own prejudice,” she said.

The film features beautiful shots of the harsh Australian landscape, which magnifies Ayaan’s fear and isolation. However, Alies emphasised that the story could take place anywhere in the world.

“I wanted a place that wasn’t instantly recognisable as being Australia – it’s such a universal story.”



Alies hopes that audiences will experience and empathise with the intense emotion of the film, as well as the difficult decision Ayaan has to make.

Filmed entirely on location in South Australia, Alies was moved by the support she and her crew received from the town of Port Clinton. The film also brought together African communities from both Adelaide and Melbourne.

“It was really beautiful to see everyone who came together and wanted to tell this story.”

Ayaan will premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, taking place on the 10-21 June 2020. Visit the SFF website HERE.

Isabel Zakharova

Isabel Zakharova is a final-year student at UTS, studying Communications and International Studies. She loves reading, writing and exploring other cultures - through travel, film and cuisine. Got a story to tell? Get in touch: [email protected]