Skye Fitzgerald Directs “LIFEBOAT--The Experiment” For Sea-Watch, Serviceplan


Robert Goldrich
Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2019


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Refugees continue to experience peril when trying to cross the Mediterranean in the quest for freedom. At least six people die every day fleeing across that ocean. In 2018 alone, at least 2,277 people attempting to cross the sea were unable to reach dry land.

As the work of civil sea rescue organizations is hampered, the proportion of deaths and missing persons in the Mediterranean has quadrupled since 2015. It is also alarming that 85 percent of Germans are not even aware of the extent of this crisis, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by aid group Sea-Watch.

Michael Schwickart of Sea-Watch explained, “When we started civil sea rescue in 2015, the mood in Germany was different. A few years later, the willingness to help and support has faded. But even in 2019, the Mediterranean remains the deadliest border in the world.”

Sea-Watch took action to help makes these dangers tangible for the general public via “LIFEBOAT--The Experiment,” documented in this film directed by Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar-nominated Skye Fitzgerald. Noted psychologist Michael Thiel was on hand throughout the experiment as a consultant.

Per the initiative, 40 volunteers experienced a simulated Mediterranean crossing in a rubber dinghy for “LIFEBOAT--The Experiment,” which was developed together with five refugees who had survived Mediterranean sea crossings and told of their experiences and impressions. Based on the first hand accounts of these traumatic experiences, the simulation was designed to be as realistic as possible.

While the 40 volunteers were crowded together on a rubber dinghy in a maritime training facility, the motion of the sea, lighting conditions and background noise were constantly changing for five hours. During the course of the simulation, waves and ambient noise increased, and increasing darkness aggravated the situation. This made the experience even more exhausting for the participants. During the experiment, rescue divers and medical personnel ensured the safety of the participants throughout.

The result: a deeply moving experience that caused the participants to reevaluate their views of immigrants attempting dangerous sea crossings.

The majority of the participants became seasick and complained of dizziness and nausea. Some of them vomited Seven participants aborted the simulation prematurely by jumping out of the boat and swimming to the edge of the pool - a decision that would mean certain death in the middle of the open sea. After five hours, all the volunteers agreed that only extreme despair and hopelessness could motivate people to take that risk--that no person can do such a thing voluntarily. “Of course, the experiences of refugees cannot be simulated entirely realistically, but the experiment nevertheless creates an approximation of the situation and emotions it evokes. ‘LIFEBOAT--The Experiment’ underlines the necessity of the sea rescue organization Sea-Watch and gives the participants a deeper understanding of the extreme danger faced by immigrants attempting such dangerous crossings,” said Schwickart.

Under the direction of Fitzgerald via production house Markenfilm, the interviews of the refugees and participants in “LIFEBOAT--The Experiment,” as well as the entire experiment were filmed. Fitzgerald explained: “This experiment will be part of the dialogue that brings change. We are starting to think about how we can deal with this crisis in a more meaningful way. If we change even one person’s opinion about the refugee crisis with this experiment, then it was a complete and absolute success.”

Together with Sea-Watch, ad agency Serviceplan Hamburg implemented the campaign “LIFEBOAT--The Experiment” from conception and story development to the shoot, as well as the design and implementation of the campaign website.


Client Sea-Watch Agency Serviceplan Hamburg Alexander Schill, global chief creative officer; Michael Wilk, executive creative director; Maximilian Schungen, global creative strategist; Dennis Fritz, head of editing; Markus Maczey, creative managing director. Production Markenfilm GmbH & Co. KG Skye Fitzgerald, director; Felix Tonnat, DP. Postproduction NhbNEXT GnbH & Co. KG Sound Design/Music Sebastian Osterwald

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