(Meta)Narratives on Migration films

A context - specific approach - PhD Workshop, 21 November 2017, Utrecht
The workshop was financed by DAMR and convened by Vassilis Gerasopoulos and Dr. Nilay Kavur from Utrecht University. It covered a selection of films produced in different European countries with an endeavor to 'read' the language of films that have dealt with the experience of migration - both the experiences of the displaced, and the receiving populations.

Dr. Hanneke van Eijken (Utrecht University School of Law) commenced the workshop by presenting a legal analysis of the recent migration flows towards the EU member states in Europe, narratives over migration that shape and effect the legal responses to human mobility. Against the legal narratives that represented an ‘official’, albeit highly problematic narrative towards migration, the 3 guest speakers that followed introduced the ways in which the cinematic narratives respond or reflect the official discourses on migration.

Guest speakers Dr. Domitilla Olivieri (Utrecht University-Department of Media and Culture Studies), Dr. Brenda Oude Breuil (Utrecht University-Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology) Prof. Dr. Nicola Mai (Kingston University- Sociology and migration studies- Department of Criminology and Sociology), have shared their analysis over the following films: ‘Welcome’ (2009)[1] and ‘The Paradise Suite’ (2015)[2]. Most notably, in her analysis on ‘Welcome’, Dr. Olivieri encouraged the audience to look beyond the story that was unfolding and focus on how the plot and characters were framed, what were the directorial choices in music, light and cinematography. She emphasized the process through which a storytelling becomes discourse – by being pervasive, becoming almost invisible to the eyes of the spectator and transforming into a normality that enjoys consensus as the only acceptable alternative of events. Dr. Oude Breuil focused on the essentialisms of ‘The Paradise suite’ as regards the development of events around migration from Eastern towards Western Europe. She pinpointed how the migrant trip has become synonymous with danger, misery, harm and even death. She argued, thus, that against all the stories of young ‘Natasha’s’ there is another reality of migration that doesn’t revolve around victimization, exploitation and trafficking.

The workshop culminated in the discussion that followed the screening of the ethno-fiction film installation “Samira” (2016)[3] which alluded to how, in order “to have their rights recognized and avoid deportation, migrants assemble their bodies and perform their subjectivity according to standardized humanitarian scripts of victimhood, vulnerability and gender/sex that act as ‘biographical borders’ (Mai 2014) between deportation and access to social support, legal documentation and work” (Mai, 2016). Professor Mai’s concept of ‘sexual humanitariasm’ enveloped the debate on the connections between migration and its prevalent representation by articulating that the West is only ready for the ‘ideal victim’ of migration, the victim that has been ostracized and uprooted from their origin only to become further victimized in the destination. What was particularly noteworthy was that a debate over the grand narrative of migration turned largely (based on the prevalent themes presented in the films) into a discussion over prostitution, victimhood and exploitation – a observation that is quite telling for the particularities of this narrative surrounding migration towards the West – maybe even alluding to our own White/Westernized/Oriental gaze towards the ‘migrant’ subject. All the speakers stressed the need for filmmaking that challenges the ideal victim and puts forward a realistic, dynamic, agentic mobile individual with its own motives, aspirations and trajectory.

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[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1314280/
[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4246894/
[3] https://vimeo.com/84704860