London Migration Film Festival (28 Nov – 4 Dec 2019)

Migration illustrated by pedestrians and cyclists in street Klaus Berdiin Jensen

• ‘Clemente, an old Sicilian fisherman is going about his day on the boat, aware and accustomed to both the perils of old age and the sea. But when he finds a body of a dead refugee stuck in his fishnets, his life changes forever.’

• ‘A young ramen chef from Japan, Masto, embarks upon a culinary journey through Singapore seeking not just delicious recipes but also truths from his past.’

• ‘The power of memory evokes truths for a Syrian refugee living in the USA, when one evening, her kitchen radio picks up familiar voices demanding freedom.’

•  ‘For Olivia, an undocumented Filipino transwoman in Brooklyn, voices from her past don’t matter as much as shaping her future. Trying to attain legal status in the States, she pursues a marriage-based green card with Alex, the grandson of Olga, an elderly Russian woman, whom she takes care of.’

These stories form the plot lines of four different films, based in different parts of the world, which unfold at different times and in different languages:

Rosso: La Vera Storia Falsa Del Pescatore Clemente
Ramen Shop
The Dead Die Once
Lingua Franca

Yet the films evoke the reality of millions of people that seem to have a lot in common: a lost, displaced home; an exploration of one’s own identity; a sense of longing for the past with a hope of a better future in a foreign land, and a challenging journey of living through it all as immigrants and refugees.

The London Migration Film Festival, an initiative of the Migrant Collective, tackles the dominant migrant rhetoric by delving into the ‘diversity, nuance and subjective experience within migration – including and beyond the refugee experience’.  The screenings of heart-warming and heartbreaking films in several genres, languages, and lengths will be followed by Q+A and discussions with film-makers, academics and the audience.  The line up includes about 30 films and events that ‘raise questions, start conversations, challenge perspective and ultimately restore the humanity of migration’.

Vivek Joseph, a Development Studies student learning global migration policies, is amongst SOAS students looking forward to engaging with some of the new perspectives that the films will put forth. He states:

“Films are an essential mode of articulating and disseminating narratives of the subaltern, of the voices that are oft suppressed. When such films are showcased at a festival, they enable the migrant experience to be more comprehensively represented in the public sphere, beyond academic literature or misinformed news. We tend to express migration in terms of numbers, as figures splashed over the pages of newspapers and political campaigns. These films become tangible expressions of the human realities of migration: the complexities of memories, journeys, fears and dreams that make up the migrant experience and the reality of the migrant crisis. For a student of migration like myself, this festival is useful in understanding how the representation of alternative perspectives of migration through the media can affect public imagination.”

These feelings resonate with Chu Hsiao Chi, a Taiwanese student currently pursuing her Masters in Migration and Diaspora Studies. She imagines a world without borders:

“By their very nature, films can permeate borders and inform us of a reality unfolding miles away from us. We need that awareness and connection brought forth by the universality of human emotions.”

Further Information: London Migration Film Festival (28 November – 4 December)

The week-long festival takes place over different venues, including at SOAS University of London.  SOAS will host the opening Gala, along with screenings and discussions, including of these films:

  • Aga, which explores the impact of climate emergency and urbanisation on remote communities by telling the story of an elderly couple living in the Russian Tundra.
  • Border South, which tracks migrant routes from Southern Mexico to the US.
  • Congo Calling, which delves into the experience of three European charity workers in the conflict-ridden Goma in Eastern Congo.

Other venues include The Ritzy, The Genesis Cinema and The Lexi.
Tickets are priced £7 for students.


Migration is a complex, nuanced phenomenon that is not just defining global attitudes but also shaping unhealthy attitudes towards immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the Global North. These attitudes are based on myths propagated by xenophobia, right-wing extremism, capitalism, patriarchy and colourism. Most immigrant communities, already marginalised based on their race, gender, class and sexuality become doubly oppressed when they are forced to leave their homeland and start a life in a foreign country.  When borders have become denser, navigating one’s self-worth and cultural identity, whilst trying to forego a bare life for a legal one under state-imposed restrictions, becomes challenging.


Degree programmes

  • Devyani Nighoskar is a 23-year-old SOAS student from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her M.A in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo

Main image (c) Klaus Berdiin Jensen, Flickr

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