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Interview with "Raise the Roof" Singer Robert Plant; Interview with "Raise the Roof" Singer Alison Krauss; Interview with "Simple as Water" Director Megan Mylan. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 06, 2021 - 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.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): That's the good news on Omicron so far. I speak exclusively with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about his plan to
find those who refuse the vaccine.
And "Raise the Roof." Grammy Award-winning musicians Alison Krauss and Robert Plant join me to discuss their new album and why it took 14 long
years for them to reunite.
MEGAN MYLAN, DIRECTOR, "SIMPLE AS WATER": Are we going to, with moral urgency, reunite families or leave them separated for years at a time to
AMANPOUR: Acclaimed director Megan Mylan talks to Hari Sreenivasan about her film "Simple as Water," a look at Syrian refugees struggling to
maintain family bonds after the war.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
With the holidays and travel surge on the horizon, the United Kingdom and the United States began new travel restrictions this week, requiring
inbound international passengers to test before departure. Meantime, the latest scientific advice on the new Omicron variant is more measured than
Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: Thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it. But we have really got to be careful before we make any
determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn't cause any severe illness comparable to delta.
But, thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: He cautions that it's too early to know for certain.
And early findings from South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, show also that it may be fast-spreading, but so far, producing milder
Whatever the case with, Omicron health experts still insist that key to putting the pandemic behind us is vaccination. So, Europe is taking the
bull by the horns. At least Greece is. With just 60 percent of his population fully vaccinated, the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis,
is now mandating it for everyone over the age of 60, or face a monthly recurring fee of 100 euros. That's about $113.
He says he was personally tormented by this decision, but insists that it is not a punishment, just the price of health care.
And Prime Minister Mitsotakis is joining me now from Athens for an exclusive interview.
Welcome to the program, Prime Minister.
I guess the first question is, how did it get this way in Greece? Who are the unvaccinated?
KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, Christiane, let me point out that more than three out of four adult Greeks have already
received the first dose of the vaccine.
But we were facing a situation where 17 percent of people above 60 had not yet been vaccinated. And, unfortunately, these are the people who end up in
our hospitals. They ended up occupying the overwhelming majority of ICU beds.
And, unfortunately, these are the people who lose their lives. I think we have done everything in our capacity to convince these people that they
need to get vaccinated. We have run a very extensive P.R. campaign. I mean, the case has been made very, very convincingly that you risk getting
severely sick if you are unvaccinated.
So we did take the decision to move towards mandatory vaccination, imposing a monthly fine. And what I can tell you is that, since we took the
decision, we have seen a significant uptick in appointments from people from this age group to actually get vaccinated.
So I would hope that, by January 16, when the fine is going to kick in, an overwhelming majority of those people will take the decision to get
vaccinated. Not everyone will take that decision. But it seems that the mandatory aspect of our decision-making has nudged enough people to take
the necessary steps to protect themselves and their families.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just read a few statistics from your office.
Nine out of 10 deaths in Greece from COVID are with citizens 60 and over. Seven out of 10 who have to be intubated are 60 and over. Eight out of 10
intubated are unvaccinated.
So I guess I could ask you, why did it take you this long then to impose the idea of fines, when you said it was a decision that personally
tormented you? But could you have taken it earlier?
MITSOTAKIS: Well, look, first of all, let me point out that the statistics are not different from what you see in any other country.
I mean, right now, we have a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And if you talk to any of my colleagues, they will tell you that it is the unvaccinated to
get severely sick. They are the ones who end up in the ICU beds. And, unfortunately, they lose their lives.
According to our Constitution, we have to take progressive measures. And, of course, mandatory vaccination is the ultimate measure that we can take.
We had already mandated mandatory vaccinations for health care professionals, and now we're extending it to the people above 60.
But I do -- I would point out that we're just the second European country doing that. I wouldn't be surprised, Christiane, if other European
countries follow in our path. The president of the commission mentioned that mandatory vaccinations need to be discussed.
Of course, every country is different. Every country has different constitutional constraints. But I'm a liberal politician. I don't like
mandatory measures by nature. But I feel it is the right decision to protect people who I know, if they don't get vaccinated, will get sick, and
some of them, unfortunately, will lose other lives.
So I'm very comfortable with the decision that we took. And, so far, if we just look at how quickly vaccination rates have increased, I think we took
the right decision. In general, we have tried to be ahead of the curve.
We were the first -- one of the first European countries to open booster shots to all age groups. Our health care experts have reduced the interval
between the second- and the third-dose shots to three months. And also, in our case, the vaccination certificate will expire seven months after you
had your second shot.
So, we're trying our best to also make sure that people who have already -- who are already vaccinated will get the booster shots. And we're one of the
European leaders when it comes to putting the third shot into people's arms.
AMANPOUR: Well, clearly, the proof is in the pudding.
And, as you say, if people have increased their uptake, that's a good thing. Every health expert in the world says there is no way out of this
pandemic without a much wider and broader vaccination campaign.
But I just want to put up a graph, because you said your statistics are similar to your neighbors across Europe. I mean, I don't know what you call
neighbors. But Portugal has 81.6 percent of its population fully vaccinated. And then you see the others going down. And you're at 62.4
percent. So I see why you needed or wanted to do that.
But let me ask you, because, inevitably, politics gets played. The leader of your opposition, former Prime Minister Tsipras, has said -- and I'm sure
you have read it -- "Instead of expanding vaccination rates in the population, as everyone hoped, we will have a wave of reaction that will
not help anyone."
Your comment on that? You have already told me that, in the interim, it has expanded and increased the uptake. Are you concerned at all that there
might be reaction and protests like you see in the Netherlands, in Belgium and elsewhere?
MITSOTAKIS: We have had very limited protests, Christiane, and I think this is a very, very good sign.
And we have also imposed significant restrictions on the unvaccinated. Again, we were one of the first European countries to make it clear that,
if you want to go have a meal in a restaurant, or if you want to go to a movie, you have to be vaccinated. A negative test will not do the trick.
Now, unfortunately, we haven't had as much political consensus as in other countries. I mean, the opposition has chosen to make the pandemic a
political issue. I think they're making a big mistake, because we're struggling with the same problem as any other country in the world.
But again, as you said, the proof is in the pudding. And we need to see vaccination rates increase. We have seen that significantly over the past
weeks. So, I think that our policies eventually will be vindicated.
The other aspect of our policies, which I would like to highlight, which I think is very important, is, of course, expand testing even further. This
week, we're launching universal testing for the entire population. Every Greek citizen has the right to a self-test.
We will do the same immediately after New Year's Eve to make sure that we also identify citizens who are possibly -- who possibly test positive, but
have no symptoms. And, again, that's the only way to keep our economies open.
We do not intend to impose a lockdown. The Greek economy is going to grow significantly this year. The statistics for the third quarter came out just
today, more than 11 percent increase in our GDP. Our tourism did very well.
So, if we want to keep our economies open and functioning, and make sure we create enough wealth for all Greeks, we have to get vaccinated. And we have
to make sure that we adhere to the basic precautions and getting tested and making sure we wear our masks.
AMANPOUR: How do you explain that you did -- I mean, you were one of the early -- I mean, way back, when the pandemic started, back in 2020, you
were one of the first to impose strict measures.
And, by that summer, Greece was the destination of choice for many, many people who couldn't go anywhere else. And there was a big tourism boom in
your country. How do you account for that success, where other countries have seen less success in terms of keeping their economy open and their
health sort of in control as well?
MITSOTAKIS: Well, look, we did particularly well during the first wave, because we shut down the economy very quickly.
I mean, we have done less well during the second and the third wave, as was the case in most European countries.
MITSOTAKIS: But, as far as tourism is concerned, I think we communicated very, very clearly what are the rules. We wanted people to visit Greece
safely. They did so in significant numbers during the summer.
We did better than we expected. And, of course, now we want to prepare for an even better tourism season in 2022, assuming we have no other unpleasant
surprises. But even with the Omicron variant, again, we don't know how badly this is going to get.
But what we do know is, right now, there is one -- one remedy, and that is vaccines, not just the first and the second dose, but also the booster
shot. So we're focusing on that.
But, again, as far as the pandemic is concerned, clear communication and rapid decision-making is critical. And, again, if, for whatever reason, one
needs to change their mind, this happens when data sort of indicates that we should do that. We had not planned to make vaccination mandatory. But we
looked at the data, we looked at Omicron, and we said, this is the right decision, and we need to take it now to protect our people and make sure we
have no further unnecessary loss of life.
AMANPOUR: Talking about loss of life -- and it is tragic -- there is a considerable loss of life amongst migrants and those seeking asylum in
Europe, not so long ago here between France and the U.K. in the English Channel, the unbelievable sight of 27 people, including children, drowning
in the English Channel, just trying to get asylum, which is their right.
And the pope, of course, has been on the Greek island of Lesbos, and he has been very, very concerned. And, of course, you have a very big migrant camp
there. And he's talking in general about unreasonable fears of migrants, of countries about migrants. And he's talking about -- I mean, his actual
words were: "We're witnessing a retreat from democracy in Europe by people and politicians lured by the populist wave."
What's your reaction to that? Because, if you look at Britain, if you look at France, even though right-wing politicians make a big deal about
migrants, there actually aren't that many, relatively speaking, coming into those countries.
MITSOTAKIS: Well, we suffer from being a country that is on the external border of the European Union.
And we're very happy that the pope visited us for a second time. I'm sure that, when he went to Lesbos, he saw a situation that was significantly
improved compared to 2016. We now have organized facilities that offer humane treatment to desperate people who reach our shores.
But I think it is right to point out that there hasn't been enough solidarity when it comes to sharing the burden of migration. And Greece has
granted more than 50,000 asylum permits over the past year. We were the one European country, Christiane, that welcomed woman from Afghanistan in
We have more -- 800 women and their families in Greece, because we thought this was the right thing to do to offer these women and their families
protection from a regime that could possibly persecute them. At the same time, we are defending our borders with full respect for fundamental
And we feel that this is the right approach to take. We have to eradicate the smuggler networks. We have to stop people being trafficked in these
horrible conditions. And the one way of doing it is to open legal pathways to people who would want to come to Greece, come to Europe, and to not just
be safe from war and persecution, but also to seek a better economic future.
Unfortunately, we haven't made much progress in terms of European solidarity on this file. And, yes, there are European countries who
consider this simply not to be their problem. And they just want to make it the problem of the countries that simply by virtue of their geographic
position happen to be on the external borders of the European Union.
AMANPOUR: Let me play this sound bite from the pope. I mean, he is the world's moral leader. And he's used the plight of refugees throughout his
And this is what he said about civilization and the risk to civilization from the way migrants are treated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE FRANCIS, LEADER OF CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): The Mediterranean, which for millennia has brought different peoples and
distant lands together, is now becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones.
This great basin of water, the cradle of so many civilizations now looks like a mirror of death. Brothers and sisters, please let us stop this
shipwreck of civilization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that's pretty pointed.
AMANPOUR: And I'm just wondering whether you think, not just war, but climate also, will push more migrants.
Let me just quote the World Bank; 200 million people could become internal climate migrants or displaced by 2050. And I'm just wondering what you
think when you envision that possibility, and this is now a climate question, whether you and everybody else can manage the climate crisis
before this happens.
MITSOTAKIS: Well, you're right to point out that, unless we address the underlying causes of migration, we will be under more pressure.
But just to come back to the words of the pope, very powerful words, I can tell you that we're doing our best every day to save people whose lives are
at risk at sea. But we also need to work with our neighbors. And in this case, we need to work with Turkey.
I mean, Turkey, in the past, has weaponized migration. You remember very well what happened in March 2020. I think they're taking a different
approach now, which is the right approach. We need to cooperate together to eradicate the smugglers. In our case, it's a very short distance between
the Turkish shore and the Greek islands.
And we're happy that we have managed to significantly reduce arrivals by more than 80 percent since I took over as prime minister. And this also
sends a signal to smugglers, but also to the customers, don't try this. This is a very, very dangerous journey.
So, unless we eradicate these networks, and, at the same time, offer legal pathways, legal entry points for migration, this situation is not going to
be addressed. But, also, uncontrolled migration, what we saw in 2015, where essentially we opened our borders to anyone, that is clearly also not the
solution, and that also will not be tolerated by European public opinion.
AMANPOUR: Prime Minister, thank you so much indeed for joining us, important topics.
Thanks a lot.
Now some happier news from the music world. One of pop's great odd couples returns for the first tour in more than a decade. Alison Krauss and Robert
Plant, AKA, the queen of bluegrass and rock's golden god, are back with a new album.
It's called "Raise the Roof." And it pops up 14 years after their first album, "Raising Sand," which went platinum and won just about every Grammy
Take a look at the clip from their newest song, "Trouble With My Lover."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, why are these two music legends revisiting their once-in-a- lifetime collaboration?
I asked them just that. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss joined me recently, just after they had released their surprise new album.
AMANPOUR: Alison Krauss, Robert Plant. Welcome to the program.
ROBERT PLANT, MUSICIAN: Yes, hi.
ALISON KRAUSS, MUSICIAN: Thank you.
PLANT: Good day to you.
AMANPOUR: So, look, I know you have been asked a million times, but it's not the obvious pairing. It's a little like The Odd Couple.
So how did you first get together? Whose idea was it way back when for your first album?
PLANT: I was always up to try and find new things to try and do, because being at the front end of rock bands and -- it's a lonely place to be.
And I always wanted to see whether or not I could adapt my style with another person's voice. And the opportunity arose circuitously for Alison
and I to get together in a tribute concert featuring Harry Belafonte and Odetta and some very, very heavyweight luminaries paying tribute to Lead
Belly, the great American troubadour, singer.
And, as over the years, all of us British rock 'n' roll musicians had lent on Lead Belly's catalog, it was a fine thing to do. I asked Alison if she'd
like to come along. It was just to see what -- whether or not -- there was nothing to lose, except for the train fare.
AMANPOUR: The great, great Harry Belafonte. And we have had him on this program as well.
AMANPOUR: Alison, were you, I don't know, surprised, eager?
And I'm so struck by what you say about rock being a lonely place to be, Robert.
Bluegrass what you do, Alison, is different, right? I have read that it's much more like a family affair.
KRAUSS: I suppose so, yes.
I mean, all bands, traveling bands have a kind of a family atmosphere, whether it's dysfunctional or peaceful. There's a lot of similarities. I
think, whenever you get people together that are -- they come together by some other common ground.
And bluegrass, what kind is the standard is the family-style singing, which is really tight harmonies and kind of an exactness of those parts, real
close harmonies to match the melody. And that's the kind of atmosphere I came from, a very practiced, regimented singing style that's meant for
singing harmonies, so you're always kind of singing the same thing so that everybody can be as exact as possible.
And that's a very different world from Robert, who is very spontaneous. So, yes, it's an odd pairing, but it's ended up being a whole lot of fun.
AMANPOUR: Robert, what kind of boundaries did you have to adapt to or adjust to in this duet, so to speak, rather than what you did as the primal
scream, the sort of independent lead vocalist on Led Zeppelin?
PLANT: Well, as Alison said, it's really about structure. And it's about the intertwining and the affinity of the vocal and the placings of it.
My voice, obviously, and Alison's voice, we sing in different ranges. So, once -- it was a real sort of learning curve for me to be almost in the
position of a student, because I really wanted to make it work. I started listening more and more to the Everly Brothers and the forerunners, the
various American singing groups, Ralph Stanley and his brothers, and just great singing.
And I really wanted to see whether or not I could get away from that kind of strange place up at the sharp end of an entertainment evening when
you're on your own.
So I learned more and more. And Alison was patient enough to put me through my paces. And I wanted to do it because I knew that the actual textures of
our voices were so unusual that there would be some kind of unexpected, quite beautiful moments, not collision, but collusion.
AMANPOUR: Alison, I want to just ask you because Robert mentioned the Everly Brothers, and one of the songs on your new album is from them, "The
Price of Love."
And it's very different. You do your version very differently than the original version. And we're going to play the two, so that we can just have
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Alison, what were you thinking, what were you both thinking that caused you to make a much different rendition of these lyrics?
KRAUSS: I have said this and we have talked about a beautiful song that has beautiful, timeless poetry and a beautiful melody, they have so many
lives, and there's so many ways that it works because it's just beautiful to start with.
And, to me, that song -- it's funny, because I didn't remember this, but T Bone said, he said": "Alison, you said slow it way down," which I didn't
remember doing. But it uncovered just how tragic the lyric is, where -- with -- one of one of those things that makes such a magical tune is when
you have such a happy melody and such a tragic lyric., and the two together create a pretty wide emotion.
And this, I think, stripping away kind of the swing of it, it uncovered the lyric and became a very different time with that particular tune.
AMANPOUR: What took you so long, if I can put it that way, to reunite? And was it self-evident that you would reunite after your massively successful
first album together?
PLANT: So, with our first adventure together, we found the portal that we could move through to create "Raising Sand." And it was a remarkable
But as it came to its finale, after we went to a big dedication, and came out with a few gongs and stuff like that, and we looked at each other and
went well, hmm, maybe we should carry on. And we gave it a little bit of thought, but it was too soon to go rumbling back again.
So we went our separate ways. And to try and find a way in once you're on another trajectory is quite difficult. So, we would exchange songs, send
information about the stuff that we liked, we were listening to, and listening to beautiful, fantastic nuggets of music that had almost
I mean, the Everly Brothers song "Price of Love" is pretty well-known, but most of the other songs are quite from tiny corners in the world of music.
And so we kept exchanging these songs. And then the opportunity came, and we went for it.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, Alison, about a comment about from your producer, T Bone, about at least "Quattro," and actually the album
He said: "As we were going through the material, it was clear that a story was being told concerning a man, a woman and war. And it became clear which
songs fit and the sequence they went in."
So tell me about -- the man and the woman is kind of obvious, because it's a lot of love songs and songs about loneliness, songs about fulfillment.
But "Quattro" is about war. And it's the first song and it's also about border crossings, in this case, Mexico, the U.S.
Tell me how you interpret what T Bone said, the war aspect of it.
KRAUSS: You know, it's funny.
A lot of times, you don't know what the theme of a record is, if not most times. For me, it's timeless, emotive, mystical songs and feelings. You're
matching a feeling. For me, more than even what else I'm paying attention to, I'm just looking for a likeness and a thread of feeling when we're
choosing songs that feels like it could come from both of us.
And there's a theme with that, which is longing, peace, unrest.
PLANT: Yes, searching.
PLANT: It's a whole deal of, yes, the quest. Yes.
And I think, really, from a mature angle, a song has got to be telling you some stuff, and it's also reporting in from another time, because these
songs are pretty old, well, I would say the majority of them.
And so, therefore, they were written in a different with a different conscience and from a different period in time, really. So it's
interesting, really, because they are kind of windows on situations and emotions that a songwriter might have been experiencing in another time.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you? Because, I mean, it is incredible that two of you who are completely top of your game, different generations,
different styles, but totally the top of your genres, and I just wondered.
Alison, did you have a favorite Led Zeppelin song? I mean, what about Robert stood out to you before you met up and collaborated?
KRAUSS: Well, I -- my real-time experience with Robert putting out music was his solo work and I had heard Zeppelin music from my brother who played
it in his bedroom and was, you know, just -- was just in awe.
And would point things out. But like as far as my own, you know, life connection with Robert's music, it was his solo stuff and "Big Log" and "In
the Mood, "I'm in the Mood" and those things that came out on MTV. And that was the stuff I knew that had made a place with me in real-time.
AMANPOUR: Did you have a favorite Alison Krauss song? I mean, did something about her stand out to you before you actually got together,
before the first time you met?
PLANT: Well, you know, the whole revelation for me when I saw and was locked into "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and subsequently "Down from the
Mountain," I could hear Alison singing.
And I could hear this, when earlier on in this conversation, Alison was talking about family and the whole idea of harmony and representing a group
of people that study and work on vocal, being precise and being, that's great, but you've got to be beautiful. You have to have a beautiful voice
to really make it, to tick all the boxes, and that's what I heard from Alison when I heard "Down to the River to Pray" and heard these beautiful
chimes of the human voice.
And as it went on, we toured the world together. And every night, she sang that song and I used to come skidding out of the wings to make sure I was
there in time to do the harmony with the other guys. It was just such a beautiful experience for me to be in that world of great community, you
know, and she represented that to me when I heard her.
One night when I was driving along in the back roads of Worcestershire structured borders and I heard Bob Harris playing one of her songs on the
radio, and I just pulled the car over and just went, oh, listen to that once. And so, here we are.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you another question about Led Zeppelin, Robert, because you have said, I listen to that old stuff now and the energy is
magnificent, but I don't really know the guy who's singing. I've heard a lot about him but don't know what the hell his game was. Since so many
people know you because of Led Zeppelin, what do you mean about that now in retrospect?
PLANT: I don't know. I just don't know. You know, we were just sort of -- the magnificent collision of the four of us in Led Zeppelin was, you know,
unparalleled, something I couldn't have ever imagined, rather like this is a totally different way.
And so, it was great. But I was taking in new things every minute. Things I didn't know, I couldn't master the gift, the art of whatever it was, and I
don't think I have now. That's why I keep jumping from, you know, lily pad to lily pad, if you like, to see how much I can actually move through the
But Zeppelin was -- I was a kid. It was all over when I was 32. And probably all over a bit before that in truth. So, I was a different guy.
You know, I was a young parent. I was still able to play soccer on a Sunday morning in Worcestershire soccer league. Couldn't do that now. So, I was
moving to a different tempo and the sound of a different drum, really.
AMANPOUR: I would like to end by -- I mean, I've read it and I'm sure you guys have told it many times, but it's a hilarious anecdote. The 2009
Grammy awards where you hoovered up five Grammys to the surprise of anybody including Album of the Year, both of you have a very funny story.
Alison, I understand you were grappling with, I'm sorry to say, undergarments. Is that correct?
KRAUSS: Oh, I'm in a constant state of doing that, yes. So, that would be exactly what was happening at that time, yes. It's a constant grappling.
Yes, that would have been true. And Robert, he goes, hey, you're going to have to stop making that face. You remember that? You're like, stop it.
Hey. I'm like, oh, yes.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's funny enough. And, Robert, you apparently were having to stare down Coldplay every time the categories were called out.
Tell me about that. It's funny.
PLANT: Oh, no. I can't say that, really. I mean, it was just ironic that our dear friends from Coldplay were sitting right at the bottom of the
stairs that took you to the lectern where the golden orb was cast upon people. So, as I walked every time, it was a joke, you know. I just turn
around and say, sit down. My turn now, because I'd never had one. I was already probably 90 when I got that Grammy or how many there were. So, it
was a kind of funny thing to do.
And it was a (INAUDIBLE) because, you know, we're all entertainers and we all have a different way of going about it. And it's somebody else's turn
this year. You know, it's kind of funny, but I can't take these things too seriously. So, obviously, you know, I say ridiculous things and I hope I
haven't offended anybody.
AMANPOUR: No, it's hilarious.
Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, "Raise the Roof," thank you so much indeed.
PLANT: Thank you too.
KRAUSS: Thank you.
PLANT: Very nice to talk to you. Take care.
AMANPOUR: And far from offending, "Raise is Roof" is really fantastic.
Now, more on refugees and what the U.N. calls the largest displacement crisis in the world. "Simple as Water" is a new documentary that follows
five Syrian families who are attempting to navigate asylum and civil war. Academy award-winning director, Megan Mylan, tells Hari Sreenivasan about
her project which examines the complex family bonds in a world of uncertainty and separation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Megan Mylan, thanks for joining us.
This documentary five years, five countries, five families. How did you decide that this is the way that you wanted to look at the Syrian refugee
MEGAN MYLAN, DIRECTOR, "SIMPLE AS WATER": Back in 2016 when the crisis has really gotten very intense and there was the flow of refugees across the
Mediterranean, I was the mother of a three-year-old and I was pulled into this story, really, as a human being and not as a filmmaker. I was waking
up every morning just reading and watching and sort of unable to reconcile how as an international community we were allowing people who had managed
to get themselves out of war zones to have to negotiate with smugglers to get to safety and to get to a place their families could thrive.
And so, it was -- it took me a while before I decided that I actually had something to say as a filmmaker. And -- but it was that sort of primal and
universal instinct of parenthood that felt like my point of entry. I had made a film a couple of decades ago called "Lost Boys of Sudan" that was
also a refugee story. It was a journey story about two young men coming to America. But I had -- you know, especially through making of the film and
then, also traveling with it afterwards and learning, this is such a multidimensional story that doing the journey of one family for the scale
of what was happening felt the meaning.
So, I landed on this vignetted chapter structure that the film has, it's five individual stories that don't intercut. I also didn't want it to have
sort of a longitude year in the life feel to it because I felt like it's something that doesn't have meat resolutions, so the structure is trying to
We joined the families for a moment in time. You know, we selected families that give us insight and then many of the layers of the family experience
in foreign displacement.
SREENIVASAN: One of the clips that I want to play is a conversation that a woman is having at an orphanage. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Welcome. Tell me about your situation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I have five children, and I'm here to register them at the orphanage. But my eldest son doesn't want to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): So, you have five children. You eldest (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Fayez.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Fayez. How old is he?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): 12 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): 12 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Tell me about your family's situation before you come to Turkey?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We (INAUDIBLE). My husband did business with the regime. And ultimately, they took him. They arrested him.
And we haven't seen him ever since. We had a happy life before then. Every time I look at my kids, I remember the good life they had.
I'm afraid for them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Why do you think it's best to register them here now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Because I can't support them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Even in that tiny little clip, we see absolutely an excruciating choice that that mother has had to arrive at. And tell us a
little bit more about how she got to that place where she doesn't feel she can support him anymore. What else has she been doing?
MYLAN: Yes. So, the woman we just saw, Samara (ph), and she's speaking with Mayada (ph) who is one of the social workers at (INAUDIBLE), a center
on the Syria-Turkey border. Samara's (ph) husband, as she says in the clip, was -- disappeared, was taken by the regime. They assume he's lost. But
they don't know. She has five boys, ages 12 down to infants. But she's a single mom now and she's, you know, tasked with keeping them safe and fed
and, you know, joyful and looking forward and educated. And it's too much.
She's not -- she doesn't -- she leaves for work at 4:00 in the morning. She doesn't feel safe when they're there alone and, you know, knows that her
eldest, Fayez, who you meet in the film, is being robbed of his childhood because deciding the take on the role of father. And, you know, that was
one of the through lines we were looking for and what war and displacement does to children is that they take on these very adult responsibilities and
sacrifice their own childhood.
And so, you know, obviously, she wants to keep her children with her but she feels like she has no other choices. And so, one of the things we were
looking for is, you know, ways to help audiences understand the really excruciating impossible choices that parents are forced to make if they
don't have the support once they've gotten to physical safety. And that's what we see with Samara (ph). And her son doesn't want to go. And that's
sort of the dilemma of that chapter.
SREENIVASAN: Let's take a closer look at Fayez, the 12-year-old they're talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Sit down. What makes you say that, when this could like your home?
FAYEZ (through translator): Home is better for my soul. My mother is there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I understand you want to be with your mother, but don't you want to go to school?
FAYEZ (through translator): It's too much. I lost my father, I don't wat to lost my mother, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): But what if your mother is close by, and can give you all her love, warmth and attention?
FAYEZ (through translator): Miss, it's better for us to stay with our mother.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When you mother is away at work, during those hours, do you feel burdened taking care of your younger
siblings? Don't you want someone to help you with this task?
FAYEZ (through translator): No. I can manage alone. I want to be their father. I want to be everything to them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If you want to be their father and everything to them, shouldn't you be well prepared for that?
FAYEZ (through translator): Yes, miss, but --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Right?
FAYEZ (through translator): Miss, I don't want them to feel they've lost our dad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: You know what it's interesting is that Fayez -- it's not that he doesn't want to go because he's a child. His rationale for it is
absolutely the opposite. I mean, he's speaking as a grown man who feels like his role is to basically father his siblings because he doesn't -- I
think he says explicitly, I don't want them to feel another loss.
MYLAN: Exactly. And, you know, one of the things I kept with -- when I would get the translation back, I kept pushing back with the translators
and saying, this sounds too formal. He doesn't sound like a 12-year-old. Can you do another pass on it, you know? And they kept saying, no, this is
exactly what he's saying. He speaks like an adult.
So, yes, he very much saw himself as the caretaker and his singular mission was to avoid any more heartbreak for his siblings and himself and his
mother. I mean, and it was -- you know, it was a hard decision on her too that their -- you know, there -- and there -- I think this is what we were
trying to get to is their choices that they're -- where there's no right answer and no wrong answer. People who see the film and think, how could
she have considered this? And others think, how could she not? So, you know, and that's the world we're living in, right, where folks are faced
without correct decisions, without good options.
SREENIVASAN: And one of the through lines that, really, in a way, Fayez, represents in this particular story, but also the role of boys and the role
of men in these families that are all dealing with their own different ties of loss and grief and trauma.
MYLAN: Yes. Every family in the film has lost something vital, you know, whether it's a home, a spouse, a parent, a limb, and are determined to move
forward despite that. It was really important to me to have both. We have storylines where older brothers are taking on the parental role both in
Turkey and in our U.S. chapter. But then also, a storyline of fathers in Germany. And that was one I felt like had so much resonance to with folks
who come to our country.
You know, men from Central America and Mexico, and the best way they can serve their family is parking themselves in a more affluent country. And
basically, that's what these Syrian fathers were left to do. They have gone ahead first to make sure that the route was safe. Which, of course, it
wasn't. But they made it through first. Imagining that they'd be able to bring our families quickly. And then, border policies, borders closed down
and they're stuck, separated for years at a time.
But still, they know the best way they can -- or often decide the best way to serve their family is waiting to be reconciled, to be reunited. And so,
you know, especially, there are many cultures that, particularly in Syria, dads are hands on, physical, affectionate fathers. And so, to watch these
men miss milestone after milestone and their children not to benefit from their proximity was really difficult to be next to and one that we felt was
really, really important.
Some of the scenes that we -- and conversations from each story sort of centers around very intimate family conversations. In Germany, it was a
group of fathers who were all sort of living in a dorm-like setting together and it felt privileged to me. I was often the only woman in the
room. And to hear men talking about fatherhood and their feelings of shame of having gotten to the safest and most affluent place and not having been
able to bring their families with them was something I won't forget.
SREENIVASAN: You talk about a father that you meet in Germany and then, you actually -- you start the film with that father's family who is kind of
stuck in this perpetual limbo. I want to play a clip from a conversation that mother is having with one of her daughters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There's no war there. And no airstrikes. Didn't he tell you that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes. Where does dad live in Germany?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Your dad lives in a very big house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): With what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He lives with other guys. They cook together and eat together. And they sit and spend time together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If we go there, we will with them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No. We'll get a house and live on our own.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): How many times did dad try until he made it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Your dad made it on his first try. But he went in summer. There was no rain or wind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Did they have children with them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes, but not many.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There were 12 children on our boat. How many times did we try to get on the boat?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Seven times. We succeeded on our seventh try.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I only remember the last time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: That scene to me is partly just gut wrenching because what these families are just trying to suppress and cope with -- in their
personal tragedies as they try to live some sort of a daily-ish, normal-ish life while they're stuck literally on a port in Greece
MYLAN: Yasmeen (ph) is the mother you see in that scene and, Fatan (ph), her daughter who's now a teenager, you know, films take a long time to
edit. But I was -- you know, I feel like each parent in the film copes differently. Never know how you're going to react to the situation, right,
until you're in it. Yasmeen (ph) seemed so determined to make life good again.
So, she was constantly talking forward and the future and when we are in Germany, when we are able to go back to Syria, which is, of course, what
most refugees and the ones -- the families we spent time with want. When we're with grandma and grandpa again, you know. And also, just determined
that there would be joy in the everyday.
The film opens with them sort of dancing with balloons. And when we were there filming, you know, it's also an industrial port in traffic and she
was like mother bird watching them. You know, she knew where they were every second. She knew where it was safe for them to be and where it
wasn't. But wasn't holding on to them. She was, you know, encouraging, go out. They go to the seashore, you know, the side and she's encouraging them
to be brave.
And one of my earliest research called on this was with a Syrian woman who is now living in Tyrone (ph), she said, you have to understand, of course,
survival is step one, but everyone wants to thrive. They want good bold lives again. And we tried, in the film, to give a sense of people and
families that had been mid stride before this upheaval that had all the same aspirations and expectations of their future that you and I do. Plans
for college and retirement and weddings and -- you know, and that was just rips. I mean, as -- you know, when I think about how the pandemic descended
on all of us and we're like, wait a second. Everything I knew just stopped?
That's really the experience when war descends on you or when, you know, climate crisis descends. Everything you planned, you know, has changed.
SREENIVASAN: There's something universal about this notion of dreams deferred, of life on hold. Whether it's these families from Syria or now,
migrants that are on the border with Poland or the refugees from Haiti or Mexico or South America or Central America that on our southern border, all
of them, millions are going through this and the way that climate change is affecting the planet, there are likely millions more that will.
MYLAN: Absolutely. I mean, when I made "Lost Boys in Sudan" 20 years ago there were about 40 million people displaced. And now, we're at 82,
according to the U.N. So, it's doubled in 20 years' time and there's no reason, unless we do something radically different with how we deal with
conflict and climate, this is our present and our future and I think, you know, the question that I hope people get in a very sort of emotional way
through the film, just like sort of organic way is that, you know, the question really is how we deal with that.
So, how do we embrace people? Do we -- are we going to offer individuals and families who escape conflict? Are we going to offer safe passage or
leave them to negotiate with smugglers? Are we going to, with moral urgency, reunite families or leave them separated for years at a time to
navigate bureaucracy? Are we going to insist that children are enrolled in school regardless of what the eventual country of asylum that was -- you
know, with the family in Greece, the kids could then enroll in school in Greece because they were seeking asylum in Germany. Well, they missed two
years of school. Like, you're only a seven-year-old, you're only eight- year-old once.
SREENIVASAN: One of the things that struck me when I was watching this was how long we have been talking about what is happening because of Syria and
the Syrian regime and the migration and all of the forms that it's taken. It's been 10 years and we are still talking about this. And it only seems
like there are these blips there, these moments. Oh, there was, you know, gas attacks. Oh, there was this child that washed up on a beach. There -- I
don't know how to sustain the level of interest that's necessary as kind of humanity to try to solve this.
MYLAN: When things don't -- you know, when problems are complex and things don't change quickly, people sort of throw up their hands. And, you know,
the Assad regime has not stopped being corrupt and a source of fear and evil and yet, they're being normalized. You know, he's been normalized as a
leader because I think people don't see alternatives.
And I don't -- you know, I don't know what the answer to that is other than I feel like we have to do better. People have to be held to account if we
want to live in a world where, you know, families aren't forced to flee for just basic safety and freedom, then we have to hold governments to account
even when it's complex, even when it takes decades.
So, you know, the question of the detained in Syria is unresolved. You know, hospitals are still being bombed. Six million Syrians are still, you
know, forcibly away from their homes with really no safety and nothing to go back to. I think it is that thing that we were touching on before that
this is very specific to Syria but this is the reality we live in and this is very likely is our future that millions of people will continue to flee.
SREENIVASAN: Well, it is an incredibly intimate film. The documentary is called "Simple as Water." It's available on HBO and HBO Max. Megan Mylan,
thanks so much for your time.
MELVIN: Thank you, Hari, a pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And film again constantly pointing out what we need to know and trying to hold people like Assad to account. Of course, he hasn't been and
he is still rising again as a strong man in the region all the years after the war began.
And finally, a return to form at the pinnacle of American arts and culture. The first family attended the Kennedy Center Honors, reviving a tradition
that was interrupted by Donald Trump's presidency and also the pandemic. This year's honorees for Lifetime Artistic Achievement include Motown
founder, Berry Gordy, "SNL" creator, Loren Michaels and singer, actor, Bette Midler.
Here she is explaining her particular genre, which marrying fine art and comedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETTE MIDLER, SINGER/ACTRESS: Life is really long for -- it's long. It's short but it's long. And in order to keep yourself engaged, in order to --
you have to be entertained. If you're not amused in your life, forget it. You're just going to sink like a stone. You have to keep laughing. And you
have to keep having joy in your life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The inimitable Ms. Midler. The celebration featured this appearance from Stevie Wonder, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi found time for
some bipartisan enjoyment. While the first lady and the president got their groove down in the presidential box.
And that's it for now. Thanks for watching and good night from London.