Poetics of the Borders: Meeting Points and Representational Border-Crossings in Contemporary Central and Eastern European Cinema
The research of migrant or diasporic cinema represents a well-established tradition in film studies today. The analysis of movies representing migrants, narrating the story of migration, centered on displaced individuals and communities affected by the influx of migrants has produced insightful scholarship. From the influential concept proposed by Hamid Naficy (An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton University Press, 2001), explaining the formation of ”exilic and diasporic” practices in recent cinema, to the mapping of the cultural impact of migration, as is the case of the volume edited by Eva Rueschmann (Moving Pictures, Migrating Identities. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2003), the issues of traversing from one culture to another and the various representations of the “Others” in movies remain an important part of academic debates.
Some recurrent approaches in recent literature view these experiences from the perspective of the formation of self-identity, representation of otherness and marginality, of transnational mobility, economic inequity or multicultural interactions. Previous works on these topics, like the edited volume by Daniela Berghahn and Claudia Sternberg (European Cinema in Motion Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. Palgrave 2010), have discussed extensively the transformative power of migration in contemporary European societies. The movement of diasporic populations, especially the flow of migrants from “New Europe” (countries like Poland or Romania) to the “Old Europe” (mostly Western countries), together with its complex transnational effects, either political, economic or social have been widely used as cinema subjects. The repercussions of migration in terms of self-representations, the representation of alterity and the social identities, have also been integrated into many research subjects covering the effects of post-colonialism and post-communism.
Some of the topics published about the way in which cinema represents the post-Cold War Europe, when some of the largest migration processes have happened, have sometimes emphasized negative dimensions. Innumerable films, for example, about the lives of immigrants in the West have showcased the pervasive effects of criminal phenomena such as prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, disenfranchised and homeless migrants turning to criminal activities or the trauma of dislocation and the impossibility of integration.
Today, these anxieties related to the violence and negative dimensions of migration are reiterated in many media narratives. Media representations either exaggerate the threat of “migrant caravans” or cultivate the fears of local communities, incited by scares about unruly foreign barbarians supposedly raping and killing, disrupting their “normal lives” or engaged in a menacing take-over of the “civilized West.” All these themes have entered the public and political discourse and moviemakers have frequently included them in their productions. Responding to such negative stereotypes, researchers have increasingly focused on the darker aspects of migration in cinema. There are now many relevant discussions exploring the complex and sometimes problematic relationships between host countries and influxes of migrants and the related challenges of racism, xenophobia, inequality and illegal movement of people, as illustrated by the discussions on migration and mobility edited by Nilgün Bayraktar (Mobility and Migration in Film and Moving Image Art: Cinema Beyond Europe, Routledge 2016). As Central and Eastern Europe has been confronted with one of the most important geopolitical and demographic transformations in recent years, with a massive wave of migrants coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places fleeing war, poverty and political repression, these issues have become part of media discourses and cinematic representations. Yet once again, this has resulted in a very narrow way of dealing with this phenomenon, concentrating on notions like “Fortress Europe” (e.g. Loshitzky, 2010), or the more conflictual paradigm of the “clash of cultures,” treating the manifestations of migration in binary terms.
In order to overcome the limitations of these interpretations, based on the oppositions that sometimes have, in fact, been invented by negative media narratives, frequently based on stereotypical portrayals or, alternatively, manipulations of reality and facts, another point of view is necessary. While the commonplace of dealing with migration is often related to violence, sexual aggression, or an imminent threat to “order,” the notion of “breaking the boundaries” should be changed from the “traditional othering” to a more inclusive understanding (Guido Rings, The other in contemporary migrant cinema: imagining a new Europe? Routledge 2016).
The current call for papers is intended as an effort to refocus the current scholarship of the cinema on migration to provide a change of paradigm in researching representations of migration. This is an invitation to academics and practitioners who study issues related to migration from multiple perspectives. Here we are proposing two main notions: that of the poetics of the borders and meeting points. The “borders” and the “meeting points” are not defined in terms of contrasting identities, separating cultures and societies. Instead, they are oriented toward dealing with shared emotions, spaces, representations, and experiences and go beyond the stereotypical trope of locals meeting strangers, and “us” versus “them,” instead emphasizing the quality of the contact and discovery of the Other (regardless of change happening or not). We are searching for narratives that are not mainly about widely perceived negative aspects of migration, such as conflicts, sexual exploitation, harassment, and trafficking, and we seek to move beyond the concept that “they are coming/we are leaving.”
This is not yet another research project about how people feel when migrating; nor is it about describing a particular socio-political act. Although chronologically based on the films of the last decade, analyzing the effects of the mass exodus taking place after 2010 and its effects in recent cinematic productions, it is about looking for the relevant impact in this decade (2010-2019) on changing border interactions as well as local, regional and global transformations, including the problems related to the so-called Arab Spring, the war in Syria, the EU expansion process, Grexit, Brexit, and the Mediterranean and Balkan Route migrant crises. But mostly it is about what happens when people on the move meet each other in mobile/fluid contexts. The metaphor of the “meeting point” is used here in order to redefine not only the spaces of contact, but also to close the emotional, psychological and cultural chiasmus between these meetings.
This call is not limited to film studies specialists as we invite scholarly contributions from any discipline (political sciences or history, for example) or methodological approach (including practitioners) who are interested in providing a new view on the manifestation of migration in media representations (including photography and video installations). The main goal of this special issue on migration is to open the definitions of border crossing beyond the existing literature and the submission of innovative approaches from beyond the methodological framework of film theory are encouraged.
Possible topics of interest include the following key concepts, but are not limited to:
Border crossing and meeting points in cinema representations, narratives and character development
Border-crossing between media in the context of representing border transgressions and interactions
Narratives at the borders
- Aesthetic functions of borders
- Political border-crossings and overcoming other ideological barriers
- Border-crossing in terms of self-representation and representation of others
- Border-crossing and reconfiguration of otherness
- Meeting-points in terms of urban spaces (including representations of one’s own identity and identity of others within the city-space)
Meeting-points of memory and recovery from traumatic memories
Cinematic meeting points: borders, hotels, private houses/spaces, motorways, restaurants
Themes and recurrent motifs related to borders, interactions, communities in various media representations
- The absence of otherness
Cultural practices based on solidarity, shared values and integrative cooperation
Methodological issues related to media representations of border-crossing, including the notion of migratory media
Comparative media representations (between cinema and other forms of cultural production)