A stirring documentary, Shelter: Farewell to Eden, relays the constant fears of harm and persecution many gay and trans individuals face in some of the most turbulent places in the world. The film is told through the eyes of Pepsi, a transsexual Muslim from the Philippines. Pepsi was previously a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamic political group known for their hardline separatist tactics and an unwavering conservative stance regarding homosexuality and transsexuality. As the political climate worsened, she was forced to flee her homeland.
Pepsi recalls various stops on her journey towards freedom, and towards securing an identity for herself as a trans individual in a modern and changing world. Throughout her journey, we learn of ways that she has hidden and sought protection, such as serving an essential role as a as a nurse in Libya as the Libyan government fell into turmoil following civil war. However, when the nurse’s uniform was no longer enough to protect her, she escaped and made the risky journey across the sea to reach Italian shores and the rest of mainland Europe.
Now in Europe, Pepsi migrates between countries in search of a safer life, often crossing paths with the untouchables and fellow forgotten members of society. She recalls moments with passing friends as casually as she remembers government oppression, the colonization of Africa and Asia, and the meddling of the United States in other nations’ affairs and governments. Along her journey she notes that she may be a wanderer for life, joking that her final destination may not be attainable at all, but in fact, someplace very far from humankind.
An intriguing decision, Pepsi’s face is barely visible throughout the film, often obscured altogether by scarves and oversized sunglasses. Artistically, this allows Pepsi to blend in, become overlooked, and even forgotten as she travels throughout the film. While it’s easy to label her as a vagabond, Pepsi carries a soft strength about her. More realistically, perhaps, it is for her safety. As her story unfolds, the audience sees a slowly burning determination within Pepsi, driving her to continue to seek safety and identity.
Filmmaker Enrico Masi offers ample opportunity for contemplation with Shelter: Farewell to Eden. Still, stoic shots are presented in a flat colour profile, interrupted only by Pepsi’s brief anecdotes. The occasional use of archive footage reminds the audience of the hardships people like Pepsi have had to endure, while present-day scenes of refugee tent cities lining the Seine drive home the point that not much has changed in Pepsi’s lifetime, causing her to continue her quest indefinitely.