A Camera in the Water: Reframing the Migrant Image in Creative Documentary Film

University of Edinburgh

Supervisors:  Dr Jamie Chambers and Emma Davie

Still from Purple Sea (2020) by Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed.

Over the past decade, creative documentaries have critically engaged with forced displacement and unauthorised border crossings into Europe. During the same period, the abundance of migrant images in global media and their influence on hegemonic ways of seeing has been a significant legacy for filmmakers to acknowledge and contend with. Following the exhaustion of crisis imagery, what purpose do such images serve and to whom are they created? How do the perspectives of those with lived experience advance cinematic ethics of migration? And how do different aesthetic strategies potentially transform the cinematic borderscape? This research seeks to explore these questions through a close reading of three non-fiction films that depict border crossings by sea and land in different locations in the Mediterranean region: The observational documentary Fuocoammare/Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi, 2016), the frontier-set participatory film Les Sauteurs/Those who Jump (2016), co-directed by Malian asylum seeker Abou Bakar Sidibé, and the experimental documentary Das Purpurmeer/Purple Sea (2020) by Syrian filmmakers Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed. Exploring the positionalities and perspectives enacted within these films, both in terms of the production process and the representation such a process subsequently generates, is the starting point of this paper, which examines the ongoing intertwined aesthetic and ethical implications of migrant cinema in the second decade of the 21st century.
The practice-based phase of the project is a creative documentary film engaging with stories of forced displacement in the context of the ‘small boat crisis’ in the English Channel and it revolves around the question of how migrant women ‘sense' national borders.
The research is funded by the ECA PhD scholarship.
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