Door keys. For most of us, they open a door to peace after a hard day at work, a tool that keeps your family safe at night. For others, however, they’re a symbol of hope for one day being able to return home.
It’s an insight BBDO Düsseldorf has used to create ‘Keys of Hope’, a powerful campaign for the Caritas International charity that draws attention to the fate of individual refugees. The campaign includes a microsite full of interviews with refugees and Cobblestone director Charlie Crane has directed three TV spots in support. The project initially kicked off with an exhibition featuring 19 large-scale photographs of the people featured.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with BBDO Düsseldorf’s Creative / Managing Director Kristoffer Heilemann and director Charlie Crane to find out more.
LBB> Kristoffer, what inspired you and BBDO to produce this campaign?
KH> After a big wave of solidarity at the beginning of the refugee crisis, the perception of refugees in Germany and Europe has changed. We wanted to do something against xenophobia and right wing populism, and support our client Caritas International in helping these people.
LBB> Did the campaign go through many different iterations before you landed on the door key insight?
KH> When we discovered the real insight, that refugees take their door keys with them, we thought it was really powerful. It’s a strong symbol that can say more than a thousand words. It’s the perfect answer to the prejudice that the refugees are economically motivated.
LBB> And Charlie, as a director, what are the challenges that come with dealing with a sensitive issue such as this?
CC> I’ve been in quite a few sensitive and unusual environments with a camera and the best way to approach them is with complete openness and integrity. You just can’t enter with any baggage about the subject matter - that way you can listen and respond to what are quite genuine and raw emotions.
LBB> What kinds of conversations were you having with the people that feature in the film?
CC> We talked a lot about home, what it was physically and what it means emotionally. The fact is that most people’s homes have been destroyed and they have nothing, particularly those from Syria. Everyone has a story about loved ones that have been left, are missing or have been killed. When they stop they have time to reflect and that is often very painful. We talked about jobs and education, gangsters on the road and we talked a lot about hope, which is something that needs maintaining in everyone I spoke to.
Charlie's director's cut of the TVC
LBB> For want of a better term, how did you find the people to feature in the campaign?
KH> We didn’t want to do a campaign about refugees. All the people featured in the project are real people that we documented in real refugee camps all over Europe. There was no script. Just a camera and time for their individual stories behind the keys.
LBB> There is something really powerful about the shots of the open hands - what inspired those?
KH> Our inspiration was a series of photographs by Bradley Seckers, a photo journalist, who started to shoot the keys of Palestinian refugees a couple of years ago. Together with him, we wanted to bring the stories behind the keys to life and give the refugees a voice that hadn´t been heard yet in the public debate. It’s an emotional experience that hopefully changes people’s perceptions and encourages them to donate to the important work of Caritas International.
CC> That was pretty much the brief that came in for me. Hands and Keys. Bradley Seckers’ photographs were the reference. They are very striking but I wanted to make something slightly different, more in my style of lighting and filmmaking.
LBB> Charlie, from an art direction point of view, what were your aims for this film?
CC> I wanted to make a very simple and clear depiction of the people I met. Although this film is made across multiple locations and more than one country, everyone was to be treated and filmed in the same way - this, in essence, underlines my feelings on the political issue of refugees as well.
The lighting borrows from traditional portraiture, with a single (window) light source lending a classical elegance to the subjects. We used a mottled canvas background that we carried with us to again keep control of the environment. The space around the subjects concentrates your eye on them more intensely and the very subtle but powerful body language you get of feeling unease, of not being settled. The hands are lit in the same way as the portraits… no moving camera, no trickery just simple beautiful photography. I’m striving for a look of truth, if there is such a thing.
LBB> How has working on this campaign personally affected your thoughts towards the crisis?
KH> Everybody in the team had one key and person that we identified with most. If you look closer, the refugees from Syria have a lot in common with us. Most of them are from the middle class like us. They had lives and hopes like us. As a young father I was asking myself, what would I do and expect in their situation? And how does it feel to leave everything behind?
LBB> What were the trickiest components of this project and how did you overcome them?
KH> I think the trickiest thing was the complexity of the whole thing. There were hours of content that we had to curate and translate. And the problem is not black and white, so we didn´t want to simplify it too much. It really helped us to remind ourselves that the idea is very simple. The key is the starting point.
CC> Getting people to talk. Particularly on the road, they are scared and alone. Why should they trust us? Some people would talk on camera and feel they had shared too much, so they asked me never to share their footage - so I won’t. When a stoic man who has been talking coherently breaks down into tears and demands for you to tell him it’s going to be ok, that’s hard. I can’t tell him it will, because i just don’t know.
LBB> What kind of reaction have you received to it?
KH> The response has been very positive and Caritas International wants to spread the campaign all over Europe.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
KH> For us, Keys of Hope was a special project. A lot of people, including us at BBDO, worked for free and offered their time to make this project happen.
CC> People are people, wherever they’re from and wherever they are going. We all deserve some dignity.
Find out more and watch the interviews here.