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Seascapes of solidarity: Refugee cinema and the representation of the Mediterranean

Publication Illustration
Van de Peer, Stefanie.
Journal of Film and Screen Media
Publication Type
Academic article
Year of Publication

Films about refugees have been embraced by accented cinema. Indeed, exilic filmmakers continue to test the boundaries of cinema, and specifically its strong bonds with nation and land. But not all exiles are refugees. This article offers that for Arab refugees the journeys across the Mediterranean Sea define their filmmaking and thus also the refugee film. If we acknowledge the sea as a central theme, motif and stylistic element in (some) refugee cinema, spectators may be able to experience refugee cinema more ethically.

Using the concept of Mediterranean Thinking as a central analytical tool, this paper focuses on the visual representations of refugees in films made on and in the Mediterranean Sea, problematising the injustices in the representation of refugees since the so-called “refugee crisis”. With a film-philosophical approach to four films from North Africa and Syria, this paper engages the senses of spectators in a cinema that highlights the instability of knowledge and power through movement and fluidity. An in-depth analysis of the visual qualities of water places fluid space and time at the centre of these refugee films.

In Mediterranean refugee filmmaking, water enables an embodied experience that leads to allegiance and sympathy, in order to achieve solidarity. This approach is based on a desire to contribute to a new historiography in the service of a more just world. Transnational journeys shape the representations of refugees travelling, transforming and transcending the Mediterranean. Ultimately, this paper examines how the migrant and the sea itself develop with the “refugee crisis”, visualised in a cinema adrift on the Mediterranean Sea.