In 1968, when the former Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, filmmaker Vladimir Kabelik tried to do his part to change the system that now dictated the new political reality of his homeland. His efforts, over thirteen years were in vain. In 1981 he left his native Prague and immigrated to Canada as a political refugee. Once here, Vladimir persevered to become both an accomplished documentary filmmaker and film professor.

Today, Vladimir wishes to tell the story of expatriated journalists, who not unlike himself, had to escape their native lands to save their lives.

Aaron Berhane was once the prominent publisher of "Setit", the first independent newspaper in Asmara, the capital of the newly established African state of Eritria. The government of Asaias Afworki shut down his newspaper and forced him into hiding. Aaron managed to escape Eritrea, but most of his colleagues were not so lucky. Twelve of the journalists with whom Berhane once worked remain imprisoned; a life threatening condition in Eritrea.

So Far From Home also features Mir Mahdavi, the former editor of "Aftab", Kabul's major newspaper. When Mr. Mahdavi's sense of journalistic responsibility and civic duty could not be tamed by bribes and threats, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Karzai government. The official documents for Mir's state of execution were drawn up and signed when the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan intervened.

The film also enters the life of Mohsin Abbas, an award winning reporter, filmmaker, blogger and press freedom activist who found refuge in Canada in 2002. Mohsin was detained and tortured repeatedly during his reporting career by police and other enemies of free speech in Pakistan, considered one of the worlds most dangerous regions for journalists.

Much like Mohsin, Nik Kowsar's politically charged cartoons so offended Iranian government sensibilities that escaping, with no possibility of return was his only option. As a cartoonist and blogger, Nik continues to apply his ruse, parody and acute political insight on the internet in order to reveal the political manoeuvring of the Iranian government.

So Far From Home also documents the life of Mike Odongkara whose photo of an Interior Minister's late night drunken car crash made him an instant target of the Ugandan authorities.

Today, Mike, like Nik, Mohsin, Mir and Aaron struggles with the challenges of negotiating a new culture, learning to reapply his craft in a new system and rebuilding his life, so far from home.

The news in brief

According to Freedom House, at the end of 2005 there were 122 "electoral democracies", constituting 64% of the world's states. Of those, only 89 countries were considered as "politically free".

In 2008, 60 journalists were killed while 673 were arrested and 929 were physically attacked or threatened. In the same year, 353 media outlets were censored by governments.

Eritrea replaced North Korea in last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world published by Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year running.

In 2007, the number of people under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was 25.1 million, an increase from 20.8 million in 2005. People under UNHCR's responsibility include 11.4 million refugees and 13.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs)




O

This documentary was made possible with 100% funding from the OMNI Television Independent Producers Initiative