Neuland premieres Monday, August 17, 2015, at 10 PM on PBS stations.
Meet the students in Christian Zingg’s integration class, who arrived in Switzerland via planes, trains and automobiles—even rubber boats. Separated from families and many traumatized by what happened in their home countries, these young émigrés from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Serbia and Venezuela already have long and arduous journeys behind them.
As part of an effort to preserve its national identity, Switzerland—a country with four official languages and a large number of foreign residents—established a policy of integrating asylum seekers into the country by teaching shared values and tolerance. Those receiving government support are required to take language courses and enroll in job training and professional development. While the country encourages foreigners to find their places, Switzerland also wants these new residents to fit into the existing culture and to succeed as good citizens and workers. That’s where an extraordinary teacher, Mr. Zingg, comes in.
Neuland follows Mr. Zingg’s adolescent charges as they struggle to learn a new language, prepare for employment, and reveal their innermost hopes and dreams. But as the end of school draws near, each student must face the same difficult question: Is there a place for me in this country?
“I got to know Mr. Zingg three years ago during a media-education film project with his class,” said filmmaker Anne Thommen. “I was impressed by the trust the pupils placed in their teacher. When Mr. Zingg told me some of the unbelievable stories about the fates of his pupils, I knew I wanted to make a film about this. We decided to accompany him and his next class over the two years from the beginning through the end of their schooling.”
“When we started filming, I was initially just curious about all of the young people who gathered in the schoolyard during breaks and the stories they had to tell. In retrospect, I admit that I had my ideas and prejudices about the various nationalities of the young people. But the longer the filming lasted, the less I was able to think in stereotypes and the more complex the individual stories and destinies became. What followed was the admission of my prejudices, and I started to see just the people, with all their contradictions and far from their homes. I genuinely hope that it will touch the viewers and sensitize them to the fates of these young migrants and others like them who are stranded on our shores every day.”
Visit the POV companion site for Neuland to watch the full film online for free for a limited time following the broadcast (starting August 18, 2015), find out what’s happened since the cameras stopped rolling, and download a discussion guide and other viewing resources. Share your thoughts and ask questions by using the hashtag #Neuland.