Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
The 2018/19 GRAMNet/BEMIS Film Series was a journey of (self)discovery through a variety of film themes and forms that broadly reacted to and interrogated current political and social issues around migration, identity and solidarity. Being back at the CCA and having knowledgeable and inspiring guests for each post-screening discussion, created plenty of opportunities for enriching collective experiences, thank you for being part of it! This is an overview of and a reflection on the process of programming films on stories that range from the local and intimate to the global and universal.
The work behind the programme of nine events together began in late spring 2018, when our team started to put together films gathered throughout the year into a spreadsheet. Over 20 films were sourced, viewed and considered for this year’s programme, all showing great potential and storyworlds that expand our understanding of the world. We felt that those which remained were the strongest, offering a diverse range of stories that also worked well together, in this sequence of themes following the monthly UN days of remembrance (see Day of Tolerance, Migrants’ Day, Holocaust Memorial Day etc.).
The Film Series began with Even When I Fall (Neal, McLarnon, 2017), a documentary following Nepal’s first circus initiated by survivors of human trafficking. The central story is driven by strong, determined young women who demonstrate incredible physical and psychological strength. The film is made by a UK-based production company who visited and worked in Nepal and is part of a larger effort to help and contribute. The post-screening discussion, where we were joined by Anna Strickland (Missing Link Productions, Circus Performers), who explained that the film is the result of a very close collaboration between the film crew and the protagonists. The women offered feedback along the way on how they wanted to be filmed and represented. This collaboration resulted in a film that is intimate, authentic and that empowers those in front and behind the camera to tell their own story, which is one of the key curatorial criteria for our Film Series.
Of course, curation is also personal, driven by our interests and experiences. This is one of the reasons why The Dead Nation (Jude, 2017) was selected for Holocaust Memorial Day in January. The essay film is about my home country, Romania, faced with the fact that during the Second World War, while it fought on Germany’s side, it has also systematically displaced and killed hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Roma peoples on its territory. This has been largely absent from history books for many decades under Communism and afterwards, as well as from public consciousness. Drawing on diary extracts from a Jewish doctor living in Bucharest throughout the 1930s’ and 40s’ who witnessed the gradual downfall of the society towards persecutions and on images from a photography studio in the countryside during the same time, the film creates a contrast between the two discourses with a powerful impact. This aspect was also mentioned in the post-screening discussion by Mirna Solic (Lecturer in Czech, School of Modern Languages & Cultures) who emphasised the jarring effects between slow paced narration of the diary extracts describing horrific scenes and the joyful family photos taken not far from the capital. Solic was joined in the discussion by Elwira Grossman (Lecturer in Polish and Comparative Literature, School of Modern Languages & Cultures and GRAMNet member) who also pointed out the detail and lucidity with which the doctor was able to describe the horrors that himself and others faced. The film provoked a lively debate and proved how necessary such a film is to raise international awareness of a nation’s denial of history.
Apart from a collaborative documentary and an essay film, this film series included a film drawing on ethnographic practices (Piripkura), a collection of short animated and documentary films made for refugee children (Beyond Borders: Stories of Freedom and Friendship) that complemented each other and that illustrated the endless possibilities of the documentary form. These possibilities were enhanced by each guest speaker (Tatiana Heise, Lavinia Hirsu, Lizelle Bisschoff, Nihaya Jaber, Hyab Yohannes and Alison Phipps) who provided a wealth of information, context and local connections.
This overview brings us to the present day and to the questions and themes that inspire the programming of our next series, which will be launched in October 2019. We are amazed by the amount of labour and passion that goes into support, integration, compassion and care. The work that goes into settling into a new country or neighbourhood, learning a new language, fighting for your rights and fighting against hate or discrimination. The next GRAMNet/BEMIS Film Series will foreground the storytellers and the protagonists that undertake such important work. More details to follow soon on the blog, stay tuned!