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Beyond the spectacle of ‘refugee crisis’: Multi-directional memories of migration in contemporary essay film

Publication Illustration
Bayraktar, Nilgun.
Journal of European Studies. Sage Publications
Year of Publication

This article examines contemporary essay films that concern refugee im/mobilities across the Mediterranean Sea. In the last few decades, the Mediterranean has been transformed into a fatal space for those attempting to cross the sea without documents. The dominant Eurocentric perspective reductively views these refugee and migrant crossings as violations of European borders.

Such limited frameworks feed into the category of ‘crisis’, which demands immediate intervention and top-down governmental solutions, such as the militarization of borders. In this article, I explore essay films that counter and disrupt the ‘crisis’ framework and the sense of urgency and tragedy it evokes: Havarie (2016), a slow-form documentary by Philip Scheffner, and The Leopard (2007), a dance film by Isaac Julien. Drawing on recent theories of multi-directional memory, I investigate the ways in which these films establish mnemonic connections across diverse experiences of displacement, including those produced by European colonialism, transatlantic slavery and postcolonial conflict.