Conducted by Zainab AbdulAziz

Written by Mariam Elhamy

“That’s what this documentary is about … it’s a comedy of errors,” says Omar Nour. He is referring to Beyond the Raging Sea, the nail-biting film produced and directed by Marco Orsini, which retells the experience of capsizing at sea with Nour’s mate Omar Samra during their daring attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to support the cause of refugees. We met up with the heroes right after the film premiered at the third edition of El Gouna Film Festival to learn how the horrific experience shaped their worldview and how the idea for the documentary took shape.

What had you set out to do when your boat capsized?

O.S: Well, we never set out to make a film!

O.N.: … And we never set out to capsize either! (laughs)

O.S.: We set out to cross the Atlantic Ocean, 3,000 nautical miles from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean – an extraordinary journey to raise awareness for a very important cause, the plight of refugees. It is the biggest crisis facing humanity today. I’m a former United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador, so I reached out to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and decided we’re going to undertake this mission for the refugees.

Thirteen hours after setting off, we ended up in a similar experience to refugees fleeing across the open water. Despite the fact that we almost lost our lives several times, it was still very different from what refugees face. We, unlike them, have a choice, and the best equipment and training afforded to us. After we were saved and back with our families, we could only imagine the level of desperation someone must have to attempt such a journey. We came back even more invested in the cause and connected to it.

What was the moment everything went wrong?

O.N.: There wasn’t one moment, there were several! Our whole day was an emotional rollercoaster. We capsized right before sunrise and there were two thoughts that ran in my mind, the first was “No, no, no! Not like this!”, meaning I didn’t want the mission to end like this, and the second thought was I didn’t want to die like this! Things just kept going wrong: the life raft didn’t inflate, the emergency beacon didn’t fire, the water was cold, the boat didn’t self-right, the waves were eight to ten meters high, winds clocked 80 km per hour, and we happened to be in great white shark hunting territory!

Even after we saw the ship that rescued us and thought we were saved, the process of getting up on the boat was complete insanity and the fear went from, “We’re going to die from hypothermia in a few hours,” to “we’re going to get flung from the ship and die in 10 seconds!” The only time I felt that we were truly safe was when we were on board the ship.

You mentioned finding humor in even the darkest moments, tell us a bit about that.

O.S.: If we had verbalized what we were really thinking, it would have been doom or gloom, so we tried to make light of the situation. When we saw the huge ship named Catalonia, Omar started talking about how he loves Greek food and how within half an hour we’ll be eating that. Omar detailed how he was going to take me to Abou El Sid for dinner when we got home, and even listed every single item he would order. (laughs)

O.N.: And I delivered!! (laughs)

How did the film come about?  

O.S.: When I came back, I was invited to the UNHCR office to recount the story in detail, and director Marco Orsini happened to be there at the time and decided he wanted to make a documentary based on what happened to us

O.N.: Marco is a genius! He had very little footage to work with and had to recreate the story while dealing with two big personalities that lived a very personal story. We still believe that it should have been a 13-hour film, by the way!

How did it feel watching the film after it was made? 

O.N.: Reliving everything that happened to us with my mother sitting right behind me and my girlfriend next to me was a very personal and emotional experience, because those two ladies went through hell and back and I got to see everything from their perspective while watching the film because Marco interviewed them in it. It felt very special to hear everyone saying so many good things about our film, our story and how it was put together. I’m proud!