In the first scene of the coming-of-age short Jabal-la montagna, viewers see a young woman venturing alone down a desolate street in Palermo, Italy. The film traces the story of Giusy, who leaves his group home after feeling misunderstood by those around him. When she witnesses the assault of an older man, Giusy feels compelled to intervene. After she manages to retrieve the wallet, she runs after the man as he gets on a bus and hands it back to her. The rest of the film focuses on Giusy as she befriends this man – who turns out to be a poet – and follows him to the outskirts of town.
WWhile the dark but ultimately hopeful film focuses on a young Italian woman’s struggle for social acceptance, the migrant youth behind Jabal-la montagnathe creation of see their own journeys reflected in the character’s story. The film was produced by the collaborative and participatory cinema laboratory FunKino â Cinema for inclusion based in Palermo, Sicily. A project of the association Zabbara, the lab provides mentorship to young migrants in filmmaking and other forms of digital storytelling. The film’s creators hope that Italian audiences will walk away with more awareness and empathy for the struggles facing other marginalized groups in southern Europe, including migrants.
Mor more than 2 million people, mainly from Africa or the Middle East, have migrated by sea to southern Europe since 2014. Asylum seekers flee conditions of extreme poverty, food insecurity, military conscription, civil unrest, war and environmental collapse.
IItaly and the rest of the EU have earned the name of ‘Fortress Europe’ due to their increasingly tough stance on these migrants, including the heightened surveillance and militarization of their borders, the criminalization of solidarity efforts, and closing our eyes to the relentless tragedy of deaths of migrants at sea. Migrants who manage to enter Europe are often subjected to overcrowding in reception facilities, bureaucratic delays in processing asylum claims and racialized exploitation as workers.
Palerme, where FunKino was founded in 2017, has become somewhat of a refuge from these nefarious policies; the mayor said the city as one of the ârights, welcome, tolerance and cultureâ. Over the past few years, I have followed FunKino’s work to tackle anti-migrant prejudice and correspond with its co-founders while researching solidarity of migrants in the central Mediterranean.
AAccording to co-founder Alessio Genovese, an Italian filmmaker, the laboratory supports two main objectives: First, the organization facilitates the entry of people with an immigrant background into the field of Italian cinema, an industry that has systematically excluded them. Second, it highlights the voices of migrants in educating Italian and European audiences on contemporary migration. For lab participants, the latter goal is particularly important at a time when far-right campaigns of disinformation and disinformation continue to make migrants and refugees in Europe a scapegoat for a host of social ills and encourage them. white supremacists at commit anti-migrant violence.
AAs an anthropologist who thinks a lot about the stories that are kept in archives, I have come to see this part of FunKino’s work as an important example of what researchers and practitioners call ‘archival activism’, or radical historical activities carried out people.
So, what exactly matters as archival activism, and why is it important?
AArchival activism begins with the recognition that archives, as custodians of the past, are not neutral. Postcolonial and feminist academics â from Stuart Room and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak at Michel-Rolph Trouillot– have long drawn attention to the political potential (and dangers) of archives to shape power relations and conceptualizations of heritage and belonging to a society. Philosopher Jacques Derrida suggested that force of any democratic society is measured by access to and influence over archives.
To Interpreting the archives as a space for activism is to recognize how the Archives, with a capital “a”, have systematically excluded those with less power and privilege. It is also necessary to engage in a decolonial approach to knowledge production, which means rethinking the stories that are included, referenced and highlighted in any recording from the past.
Archival activism begins with the recognition that archives, as custodians of the past, are not neutral.
According to Andrew Flinn, professor of archives and oral history, archival activism occurs outside institutions of power, such as government or the private sector, and requires broad participation of diverse communities to fill historical gaps. Instead of relying solely on published official documents or other types of written narratives, a decolonial and activist approach might include oral histories, works of art, photographs, everyday objects or other sources. in the archives.
SSeen in this light, archival activism is a crucial part of a larger effort. led by decolonial and feminist academics rewrite and reexamine the violent misdeeds of approximately 500 years of European imperialism and world capitalism. These efforts, for example, might attempt to capture current patterns of mass migration and place them in a longer history of colonialism, slavery, forced displacement and dispossession.
LLikewise, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of initiatives have implicitly underscored the ethical obligation of archive activists to preserve stories that are often made invisible and excluded. The commendable Pandemic Logging Project, for example, led by anthropologists Sarah Willen and Katherine Mason, opposes historically imperialist representations of the âpastâ.
As Willen and Mason state on the project’s website: âUsually, history is only written by the powerful. When the story of COVID-19 is written, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. “
Filmmaking, for FunKino participants, has a similar purpose: it is a way to ensure that their voices and stories are documented and preserved in the historical archive.
At each iteration of FunKino’s lab, often hosted in one of the myriad alumni palace (large historic buildings or “palaces”), cohorts of 10 to 15 young people meet for several weeks to learn about the various practical and technical aspects of cinema. Participants are typically in their late teens or twenties, are from across the African continent or the Middle East, have often only lived in Sicily for a short time, and identify through various genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds .
reDuring these sessions, in addition to learning staging, cinematography, sound effects and the use of equipment, the young participants collaborate to weave together different aspects of their individual life experiences for the purposes of scriptwriting and creating short films.
MKarina Horsti, Researcher in Media and Migration Studies described collaborative storytelling projects such as forms of archival activism that have the potential to transcend social and spatial as well as temporal boundaries, generating solidarity between generations. For example, in qualifying the present as âfuture pastâ, she wonders if the European public can begin to wonder how its treatment of migrants will be understood by future generations. Will they be considered as having remained accomplices of Fortress Europe and border imperialism, or will they have rejected the anti-black, Islamophobic and xenophobic immigration policies that have led to the suffering and death of migrants in the Mediterranean?
IIn the short term, FunKino aspires to transform public dialogues on migration and improve material and political possibilities for those arriving in Europe. But lab participants regularly hint at even greater aspirations. Through their stories, they say: â[We] save lives and encourage someone [to take action]. “Both a radical story and project for the future, archival activism such as the one adopted by FunKino seeks to strengthen alliances between today’s citizens and non-citizens, and between present and future generations.
NOTo such an endeavor is devoid of tensions, such as interpersonal conflicts, individual and group pain and, possibly, trauma, especially when people have been historically misrepresented and excluded on the basis of such misrepresentation. The co-founders of FunKino must facilitate and translate discussions between participants who do not speak a common language, despite common interests which form the basis of their solidarity.
Pparticipants vary not only by age, nationality and gender, but also by the reasons and aspirations underlying their decisions to migrate. Yet, at the end of each lab, they always manage to produce creative work to which each has contributed in order to reflect their collective experience. As one of the former FunKino attendees put it, “[Our film will] make people understand that we can think, that we have ideas.
ILast year, due to the pandemic, FunKino’s umbrella organization Zabbara had to switch from offering in-person iterations from the lab to finding alternatives for collaborative storytelling. This included the production of the children’s animated web series Yaron Daggi (Child of the Savannah)), directed by Nigerian director and actor Ide Maman. The series (available in streaming in Italian) follows encounters between Nurah, a human child of the savannah, and the non-human inhabitants of the savannah, including a wise lion, a clumsy hippo, a nervous rhino, a wicked ape, and a whining snake, among others. The episodes explore how the fear of difference can be overcome by curiosity and the desire to know more about the other.
The animated series ends with this ambitious declaration: “To unite is to live in peace” (Unirci Ã¨ vivere in rhythm).
TIt could be read as the ultimate goal of archival activism: to force reckoning with the injustices of the past and ensure that there is a more inclusive record for the future. These efforts to democratize spaces of heritage and belonging are necessary to challenge systems of oppression and support justice for past, present and future generations.