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CNN'S AMANPOUR

"The Jungle" Humanizes Refugees. Aired 1-1:17p ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 13:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When does a place become home?

(END VIDEO)

AMANPOUR: From Syria to the Calais Jungle to the theaters of London and New York, the searing, humanizing story of refugees brilliantly staged.

Plus, President Trump has embraced Saudi Arabia and its crown prince come what may. We do the deep dive on the kingdom's controversial production of

Islam abroad.

And, awards season is upon us. We get the inside view fm a woman who is not your average Hollywood stylist.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. America's closest allies are still reeling from President Trump's surprise

announcement on Wednesday that he would withdraw all American forces from Syria claiming mission accomplished. But these troops are a bulwark

against not just ISIS but also the Assad regime plus they protect Syria's sizable Kurdish population from being completely vanquished.

Already more than five million people have fled the Syria war; most ending up as refugees in neighboring nations. But as we all know, so many have

made the long and treacherous journey to Europe and their desperation has prompted a backlash as biblical as their plight. So it's with awe some are

now pushing back to showcase the humanity of refugees. It is called "The Jungle." It's a play that was first staged in London and is now in New

York. It's named after the famous encampment in Cali, France, on the European side of the English Channel.

And joining me now are Ammar Haj Ahmad, he's a Syrian actor who himself left his country as the Arab Spring began in 2011 never to return. Also

joining us the director, Stephen Daldry, of "Billy Elliot," "The Hours," and the hit show "The Crown" on Netflix among other major works.

Gentlemen, welcome to the program.

AMMAR HAJ AHMAD, SYRIAN ACTOR: Thank you very much for having us.

STEPHEN DALDRY, DIRECTOR OF "THE JUNGLE": Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Ammar, let me ask you what is your reaction, if you have any, to President Trump saying that he wants to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria

and that mission there is accomplished? What do you think will happen on the ground?

AHMAD: I'm speechless always when I look at the news because lots of our houses, they've been flattened to the ground because of some people saying

we're coming to free the place from this party or this party. And you end up with nothing. So yes, withdrawing the troops fine, but we already lost

everything in a way.

AMANPOUR: So this is really an extraordinary play. And I first want to ask you, Stephen because you could be described as being at the top of the

food chain when it comes to film and theater, direction and production, and yet it was two unknown Oxford College graduates who came to you with an

idea. So tell me how this happened, how did you come to stage "The Jungle"?

DALDRY: I think at the time of the Great Migration Crisis in 2015 many of us were very aware of the sprawling camp that was being created on the

French side of the English Channel where the English border is which is why the camp was there and not in Dover and many of us wanted to find out more

about it, bear witness and really do something. I mean it felt like a great humanitarian crisis. There was nobody there.

There was no UNHCR. There was very few NGOs and so a number of people including two young British playwrights when down to bear witness and then

in the end stayed there seven months and built a theater that we think created a charity called the Good Chance Theater. We call it a theater.

In many senses it's many different things. It's a town hall, it's a meeting place, it's a multi-faith gathering place as well it is a place for

art and it's such a strange thing to talk about isn't it? Why build a theater in a refugee camp?

In a sense, of course, the basics need to be taken care of and they were in some vague, haphazard way there in terms of sanitation, which was terrible.

Some shelters, but it felt there was a real need for a gathering place where people from many different communities, many different faiths and

many different - speaking many different languages could come together to share the experiences they had and the hopes and dreams they could have for

the future.

AMANPOUR: And it is remarkable because it has received incredible reviews in New York, in London, everywhere that it's been staged. It also was

staged in the jungle itself. But it's done something that little other has been able to do and that is humanize refugees. I mean it's made them

into people. So Ammar, let me ask you, you are yourself, I mean a defacto refugee. You had left for a project, the war broke out, you didn't return

to Syria and you've never gone back. What make you get involved with this production?

AHMAD: Actually what made me agree to do the production is because it's one of these very rare productions that what you said exactly, humanize --

to make -- to tell the story of refugees as humans. They are not a threat coming to Europe.

AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you both a little bit about how difficult it was, actually, to get you into New York, the Trump ban from Muslim nations

including Syria and many others. Stephen and Ammar, how difficult was it to get the actors who you needed to play into New York to play and to

rehearse and to get the show on the road?

DALDRY: It was an almost impossible task, to be honest. But we were blessed are a huge amount of what I would call community organizing from a

series of a great human rights lawyer and support from the mayor of New York, the mayor of London and many different ways trying to find a way

around travel ban.

When it comes to Ammar, we had a particular, which you should talk about, but a particular interesting way of trying to combat the travel ban.

AHMAD: I think it was really hard but I'm forever grateful to the army of people from America and London who supported our case. In my case I was

already eligible for citizenship because I've been in London for more than seven years now. But I didn't apply for citizenship because in a way we

were confident that we're doing this great human play that we're taking it to America, and there won't be a problem. But then they said, well, we

can't give you a visa. And then the lawyers here and in London said, but you're ineligible for citizenship. Let's go for citizenship. And then I

said there's no time. We only have maybe a month and a half to get to America. But then with the help of lots of people from the home office,

the mayor of London, the mayor of New York and lots of other people. Like if I start naming them it's an army of people who were motivated by the

good and helped. So my citizenship application was expedited and I received my visa on the day I flew to America.

AMANPOUR: Wow.

DALDRY: On the morning he flew.

AHMAD: Yes, the morning I flew to America now.

AMANPOUR: And straight into rehearsals. So now I'm going to play just a little clip from the trailer than we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

AHMAD CHARACTER IN PLAY: By November in the jungle I could walk through the Sedan through Palestine and Syria hop into a Pakistaini cafe on Oxford

Street near Egypt. When does a place become home?

(END VIDEO)

AMANPOUR: So that is actually a great line. What do you feel about that line and, you know, the life that it was portraying or this play portrays?

AHMAD: Like, I love this sentence and this line, "When does a place become home?" And, in a way, this is what good (inaudible) have been doing since

we went to Calais to this moment to make people feel home and again like -- do we treat - like in this play refugees have been treated as a potential

rather than victims and that is a very important thing.

AMANPOUR: You both talked about good chance and the theater that was called Good Chance and I read that actually good chance was kind of the

slang or sort of the slogan that was being used in the camp for a good chance to cross the border to the U.K. that night.

AHMAD: Yes.

AMANPOUR: And of course throughout the play it shows refugees and you represent one of them, basically trying to get across to England. That was

the big, sort of, dynamic and it's pretty sad. Going to get to that in just a second but again, I want to ask Stephen again because one of the

amazing things is the way you set it. It looks like it's set in a restaurant that belongs to one of the refugees, an Afghan restaurant in the

camp and it's - it's a mutual friend and colleague, A. A. Gill, a food critic for the "London Sunday Times." He was a contributor to "Vanity

Fair."

He's very well known in the literary and journalistic world and he did two things. He did something really humanizing. He wrote actually a food

criticism of the restaurant criticism. He said this was a properly cleverly-crafted and holy unexpected dish made with finesse and a

(inaudible) that defied the surroundings but at the same time elevated them as he was eating kind of a red bean, curry and chicken liver stew.

So tell me what you think first before I go on to his other descriptions. That was giving dignity to refugees in a camp by taking their restaurant

seriously. How much of an impact did that have on you both?

DALDRY: I think Adrian was - well Adrian is no friend but he came and it was just so interesting, he didn't come to write about the camp

necessarily but he did write about the Afghan Flag which is a restaurant that we set the whole play in and it's very much done as if people sit in

the show - the audience sit in the restaurant. It's performed around them on the tables in the restaurant. It's quite an extreme experience for the

audience in terms of the chaos and then there's some danger if you like of the situation that they - that happens in that restaurant and then the camp

they're in.

An agent came, he humanized the restaurant and came to the theater as well, the Good Chance theater was at that point in place just nearby.

AMANPOUR: And he also said -- I mean, in a way it's a little bit like art imitating life, imitating art and whole sort of circular -- circular aspect

of it. He wrote that of all the things I've told people back home, i. e. in England, the stuff about the theater has caused the most eye-rolling,

brow-furring, exasperated exhaling. What a monument to a bleeding heart liberal pretention. A theater in a refugee camp. So how was that sort of

overcome?

DALDRY: I think, as I said, the vital thing is the basics of survival which is -- again, there was no NGOs, there was very little presence by any

of the French authorities, so it was really a makeshift camp supported by and large actually by English volunteers. One of the things we felt was

important within that context was to build a meeting place that actually allowed different people from different faiths and different communities to

come together.

We called it a theater as a provocation because it allowed people to come together and tell stories in many different ways out of many different

cultural traditions. But one of the important things that we felt was one of the terrible things that people get caught up in, as you know so well,

when they get into the camps is the destruction of personal narratives. You might know where your past is, you might know where your present is,

but you have no idea where your future is and we're stuck in this sort of limbo. So try to connect the dots so people could tell stories to each

other, share stories and that the stories are so similar about whatever journeys they took whether it's from the Libyan route and the terrible

journey across the Mediterranean or whether it's the Balkan route. People had terrible stories that actually was very -- and I don't mean this to be

therapy but a very useful way of people sharing those stories again, to try and find and reconnect with a narrative that actually meant that they could

perceive a future.

AMANPOUR: And you talk about not knowing their future and we discussed briefly that part of this and a central part of many of the refugees' hope

was to make it across to England come what may somehow whether throwing themselves under chassis of (inaudible), whether being smuggled out. I

want to play yet another clip and this is about a people trafficker in the camp talking about the nature of his business.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFED MALE CHARACTER IN PLAY: One that was the only way a man could ever dream of arriving on your shore. But now, now he looks at the map on

his phone. He zones out. He thinks it's not too far. It's close enough to walk and then he sets up on the journey of his life you see that, not

this border, it's not the border in here but that is gone now.

(END VIDEO)

AMANPOUR: So Ali(ph), the human trafficker is a complicated character talking about all sorts of borders coming down and particularly the border.

He says he's a freedom fighter, a Kurdish Peshmerga, trying to help refugees find a home. Obviously there's the trafficking aspect of it.

Ahmad, talk to me about what you know about the dynamic between these refugees, some of whom were making a lot of money trying to get other

refugees out and across to England.

AHMAD: Well, I -- I don't know much about other than from the people I met who experienced that. And it's -- it is a very hard situation because

lots of people they want to -- it became like a business for lots of people. And actually some smugglers are better than other smugglers and

lots of people will put all their savings of money to give it to one person who would promise them to get to safety whether on a boat or they just --

they just go. And I think as we heard from lots of people whether in Turkey, Greece, or in Calais, its Kurdish smugglers are the best. I still

don't know why.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- Stephen, do you see them as predators or helpful in this particular narrative?

DALDRY: Gosh it's a very complicated - it's a complicated answer. There are - there are syndicates and networks that are just in for the money and

that are in bad faith in lots of ways and there are other people who work to try to enable family members to get over different borders and some of

the - some of the migrants some of the refuges who turn themselves into smugglers to help and enable other people so it's very hard to generalize.

Certainly within Dunkirk and the Calais situation there were groups of smugglers that were -- again, it's very hard to say these words but were

without doubt questionable in their motives and there were other people who were genuinely trying to help out different groups of people who often had

family links.

And a lot of people in Calais had the right to be in the U.K. I mean these weren't just necessarily people who were trying to get to the U.K. for any

reason and there wasn't that many of them, let's be frank. There's only about 10,000 on that border given the fact there was a million people

coming into Europe. Many people had the legal right to be in the U.K. and it was the British government that were breaking their own laws by stopping

them coming in.

And indeed there were a lot of unaccompanied children again that had the right to be in the U.K. and the Dublin three(ph) who were not allowed into

the U.K. So the British government consistently broke their own laws about stopping people coming into the country who have the right to be there.

AMANPOUR: Well I do sense a real intent from you, Stephen, not just the artistic and the creative but also political if humanizing refugees can be

called political and I know there was quite a lot --

[13:17:45]

[SHOW INTERRUPTED FOR BREAKING NEWS SIMULCAST OF CNN DOMESTIC]

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