The International Organization of Migration (IOM) hosted the Global Migration Film Festival in Cairo and many other major cities. I sought this opportunity to cultivate conversations about migration and refugees. Many organizations deploy film to stir hearts, to show different facets of life, and to develop a better understanding of migrants’ realities.
IOM writes in its brochure: “Cinema and migration have a magical bond stretching back over a century ago when filmmakers themselves, began making movies that depicted the world on the move.” Each of the films was hosted at an esteemed institution – Goethe Institute, Zawya, Greek Cultural Center, and the like.
I saw four movies here, making trips from Aswan, in an effort to influence the follow-up conversations and learn more about the perception of urban Egyptians on migration. Some movies touched the topic of home, identity, and trauma.
Here, I will recount each short film’s thesis and memorable episodes in the host institution. And a few thoughts.
Muhammed, the First Name
Muhammed comes from a family of migrants, all of whom have the name “Muhammed”. He is merely a child in the line of male ancestors who have celebrated having the Prophet’s name. But not in France. There, Muhammed gets bullied, pushed, and even robbed of his marbles because of his name. When he asks his parents, “Why can’t I be called Jacque?” His parents educate him about the importance of his name and its esteemed position in Islam. We also see the struggle of naming a newborn Muhammed and how the naturalization of (Arab) migrants is perceived by citizens.
In this short documentary, many refugees recount the stories that have pushed them to seek asylum in Barcelona. Mohamad, Bakri, and Mireille explain from different points of view how the war in Syria radically changed their lives. They all mourn their refusal to not return to Syria, knowing that home is the mouth of a shark. Most proclaim that the refugee crisis is about us – all of us. How do we choose to treat one another? What should we remember in creating immigration policies? We are reminded that human mobility is an integral process.
Reflection: Food was available after the movies, which robbed people of the opportunity to converse and reflect on this event. Kofta and Shish were more important. There was no facilitated conversation.
But the movies inspired me to think of what our names represent, especially since we do not (usually) choose them. We grow fond of our names, finding comfort in knowing our foremost identifying “trait”. Take for example when someone says, “Yes, he’s a Omar!” I was once told by a client at IRAP that he thought twice about resettlement because he didn’t want his children to have little self-confidence in their identities. “They’d grow confused. People will immediately know they’re foreign because of their names.” And it’s true. In the States, when I said, “My name is Ramy,” people weren’t really sure of my home country. But once I was called “Mohamed Ramy” during attendance, I was a sticking sore thumb. What is the cost of losing your name for assimilation? Why do names mean so much? Maybe it’s because it’s not only familiar to our ears but also fundamental to our confidence. There is strength in proclaiming “I know my name. I know who I am.”
In our beautiful world torn by conflict, there is a need for common humanity – for people to reach out and open homes to strangers regardless of identity. It’s more than difficult. It’s nearly impossible. But as Nelson Mandela once said, “We are all threatened by entrenched inequality and divisions. We all must prove ourselves equal to a better possibility.”
Bush Fallers (Trailer)
This movie is about questions: “why do so many Africans want to migrate to Europe? What pictures do Africans have in mind when they think about Europe? What motivates them to leave their homes? What are their plans when reaching their destination? And what happens, if their dream turns into a nightmare?” This movies addresses integration, loneliness, work restrictions and their consequences, and the esteemed position of dual-citizens in developing countries.
Netta is a young Israeli woman who would like to move abroad – to Germany of all places. Netta’s father, the son of Holocaust survivors, is horrified by her decision. This short film forces its audience to contemplate inherited trauma and etched marks of survival. How do our parents mess us up? How does their trauma become our trauma?
Reflection: The discussion after these movies was lively with an audience member proclaiming that “Egyptians live on mottos, and that Egypt is good for nothing.” People laughed at the statement. We do have many nationalistic songs. As expected, people never mentioned Compartments since it could have been a film about Palestinians. After all, we were in Egypt. The question was whether Egypt was a country for hosting refugees, a transit country for refugees, or a producer of refugees. The audience quickly mentioned the difficulty of migrating and the bureaucratic processes that plague dreams. The reason why so many people want to migrate to Europe is that, if it is sought, people are offered opportunity. Merit matters. Another child mentions that Europe has good roads and clean streets. I was, ironically, told by a Nubian friend that all efforts for Nubian legitimacy are buried in the ground. Money is simply spent on rebuilding and renovating cities rather than being invested in disparate communities. But if we all migrate to Europe, who will be left to serve our home countries? Can we forgive our homes?
Plans are made only after reaching Europe. If there is no host refugee community, one spends his passing time in his asylum, stressing about his case and the final decision. Meanwhile, the person cannot work. One of the Cameroonian refugees in Germany in Bush Fallers mentions that what kills the spirit of someone is feeling useless. Not doing anything. Sitting. Waiting. Some refugees mention that it is better to die than live in shame. Dignity revives hope, kindles compassion, and rejuvenates communities.