November 20, 2018

London Migration Film Festival

By Laura Stahnke, London Migration Film Festival

Little more than two years ago LilyParrott, and I went to a public meeting at Deptford Cinema to find out how new volunteers could use their space to programme events and film screenings. We had just organised our very first public event, where we fundraised for l’Auberge des Migrants in Calais, and we were looking for more opportunities to keep on hosting activities and events focusing on migration.

After numerous discussions we knew that our aim was to challenge the narrow rhetoric on migration that often reduces migrants to victims or enemies, while also expanding our audience, attracting those who wouldn’t necessarily go to an activists’ meeting on migrants rights in their free time but still wanted to know more about migrant and refugee issues.

As the crew at Deptford Cinema was explaining how anybody can become a programmer and host public events there, I leaned over to Lily and whispered to her that perhaps we could host a film screening there, choosing a film focusing on migration – to which she replied straight away, “Why not a festival?”

And that’s how it started. Deptford Cinema was brave enough to welcome our idea, even if we had no experience in programming film screenings, let alone festivals. We put together a line up of eight events, and by the time the first edition of London Migration Film Festival started we had already sold out all available tickets and had received a long list of messages from people and organisations who wanted to get involved in the project.

It was 2016, the “refugee crisis” was on the news every day, and more and more people felt that migration had become a priority for them – either in a positive or negative way. Taking part in artistic projects, watching a film and listening to a panel discussion following the event was an easy entry point.

Since then our festival has grown: this year we are being hosted in eight venues across London, making sure to have a geographical spread that can facilitate participation for those living at the four corners of the city. We increased the number and type of activities within our programme, with 21 events including film screenings, workshops, theatre, comedy and kite-making. Our team has grown too, and we now count on the support of a number of fantastic people that are making the festival possible.

The aim of the festival hasn’t changed. For the past three years we have selected films that challenge the current narrow rhetoric on migration often reducing migrants and refugees to either passive victims or active enemies. We intentionally choose films focusing on diverse parts of the world and migratory routes, in order to challenge the expectation that most people move from the Global South to the Global North – such as Returnee, which takes place across Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, and I am Golden Karen, looking at young migrants from Myanmar in Thailand.

Our selection includes both films by well-known artists and directors, such as Wajib, as well as films by less known filmmakers who have used new perspectives to analyse migration and refugee issues, like Royal Cafe.

The third edition of the festival takes place from 29 November – 5 December. We look forward to welcoming new people to our events, to expanding the debate on migration issues and to enjoying art together.


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