Migrations : nos voix, nos chemins de traverse, was thought as an encounter between sciences, arts and activisms. With minimal subsidies, hours of free work, and amazing support from local partners and the participants to the event, the gathering took place in alternative cultural spaces of Marseille, such as Equitable café, le Garage Imaginaire or Dar Lamifa, and drew photographers, creative writers, filmmakers, scholars, plastic artists, radio broadcasters, musicians, storytellers, activists and, well, just residents of Marseille and beyond!
On the first day of this event, we organised the screening of three – rather different – documentaries related to international migrations, followed by a debate with the audience. One of the selected films is Traversées de la Mémoire (2017), by Erika Thomas.
Beside my obvious interest in the topic, the idea of taking thirty minutes to look at more “historical” immigration stories made a lot of sense. And during the debate, it was perceived exactly like that: it is necessary to take a break, look behind, and think about what happened before.
In general, Traversées de la mémoire is a well-polished, informative documentary film. It focuses on one particular group of people: those who were more involved in anti-colonial protests, in immigrants’ struggles and in general, the activists and the artists.
Traversées de la mémoire start at the archives, together with Vasco Martins and Marie-Christine Volovitch-Tavares. The audience was rather mesmerized by this meticulous archival work, and participants mentioned it in the following discussion. The space occupied by all the labelled folders give some “thickness” to the story, a proof that someone was there to testify, and that it happened.
The film also shows Gérald Bloncourt*, Haitian photographer who has extensively photographed the arrivals of Portuguese in France in the 1960s. His work is usually considered a substantial documentation of this migration wave.
Nevertheless, filmmaker José Vieira has something to say about this portfolio: once again, the lives of the Portuguese new comers is documented through its hardships: the slums, the mud, and wandering children. Vieira shows that he collected family shots that are festive, and document happy family events, where one cannot see the mud. This also provokes reactions in the audience: the photographer does not necessarily need to document poverty to challenge the dominant discourse; and members of the group do not necessarily need to like the work of the photographer.
A last point tackled during the debate was that of collective action. This is something to research more in details, but there was some understanding that the close relationships between new comers permitted to organise more efficiently than in today’s fragmented environment.
Unfortunately, there was no one in the audience that claimed she or he could directly relate to the stories told. I wonder how this documentary was received by members of the communities: an avenue to further explore!
*Gerald Bloncourt passed away on the very day I wrote this post…