Upcoming Filmscreening: The Other Side of Hope

The Other Side of Hope
The Other Side of Hope, dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 2017
Screening Date: Friday, January 19, 7pm
Location: Wexner Center for the Arts
Cost: $8 general public, $6 Wexner Center members, students, senior citizens
The Other Side of Hope
Followed by a post-screening discussion with Vera Brunner-Sung (Theatre) and Johanna Sellman (Near Eastern Languages and Cultures)
The Other Side of Hope

 Finland’s master of deadpan comedy, Aki Kaurismäki (Lights in the Dusk, Le Havre), returns with The Other Side of Hope, the story of an unlikely friendship between a Syrian asylum seeker and an elderly Finnish restaurant owner. Worthy winner of the 2017 Berlin Silver Bear for Best Director, it’s a beautiful, timely film from one of the world’s leading auteurs. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) arrives at the port of Helsinki concealed in a coal container, fleeing war-torn Syria to seek asylum in Finland. Dazed and frustrated by the monolithic administration he encounters at the detention centre, he makes a break for it and heads out onto the streets. There he meets Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a former shirt salesman who has recently left his alcoholic wife for a new life as a bachelor restaurateur. Together, they help each other to navigate the adversities they face in these unfamiliar and often baffling new worlds. With hilarious sight gags, poker-faced one-liners and a toe-tapping rockabilly soundtrack, Kaurismäki’s latest balances his unparalleled wit with a pressing critique of the unforgiving bureaucracy that greets vulnerable asylum seekers in modern-day Europe. Humane and sincere, it’s proof of cinema’s power to tell stories that matter, with beauty and heart. (98 mins., DCP)
“A wry social-realist fable about the European refugee crisis, a funny and affecting appeal for decency in the face of suffering.” –A. O. Scott, New York Times

La Pirogue: the Myth of Europe and the Realities of the Journey

by Eleanor Paynter, PhD Student, Department of Comparative Studies

La Pirogue (dir. Moussa Touré, 2012), screened by Global Mobility at the Wexner Center for the Arts on March 1, is, in many ways, about a gamble: 31 people sail from Senegal to the Canary Islands in a fishing vessel not meant for the open sea. La Pirogue recounts migration as not only the traversing of physical space, but as an internal journey as well. We learn the different motivations and hopes of nearly each migrant on board and watch as they are threatened by discord and by the sea itself. At the same time, La

Pirogue reminds us of what Douglas Massey and other migration scholars enunciated in the early 1990s: that the movement of a single person across a border always involves a larger network. Although most of this story unfolds within the tight quarters of the pirogue, any attempt to map the narrative would result in a many-threaded web reaching far beyond the boat itself – or Senegal or Spain. Some on board hope to reach relatives in France; once settled, they plan to bring over their spouses and children. They are motivated by stories of musical and athletic stardom, economic success, medical treatment, and employment. The film poignantly loads the Goor Fitt (“man of courage”) with its 31 passengers, rations of rice, a back-up engine, and these narratives.



A stunning screenshot from the film. The solidarity of 31 Africans, fleeing to Spain in a canoe, is tested once they run into trouble.

One of the most striking lines in La Pirogue comes near the beginning of the film, as the wife of protagonist Baye Laye suggests that he not leave Senegal for Spain because “Europe is going through a crisis,” a reference to the 2008 economic crisis and its global effects. It’s compelling to consider the shift of context that has occurred between the making of La Pirogue, in 2012, and of Gianfranco Rosi’s Italian documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) just four years later, shown by the Global Mobility Project in January. Over the last two years, of course, Europe has been said to be undergoing another crisis, one marked by the arrival of more than 1.3 million migrants in 2015 and several hundred thousand since.

Global Mobility Project team member Vera Brunner-Sung and Associate Professor in History Ousman Kobo

At the March 1 viewing, discussion of La Pirogue included comments to contextualize the narrative in light of Senegalese political and economic history, as well to put it in conversation with Fuocoammare. This discussion was led by Vera Brunner-Sung, Global Mobility faculty member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre, and Ousman Kobo, Assistant Professor in the History Department and scholar of West African history. Prof. Brunner-Sung drew our attention to the theme of “the losing bet,” introduced in the wrestling match of the first scene. Prof. Kobo suggested that the film is commenting not only on migration, but on religious tensions in Senegal; within the microcosmic society in the boat, passengers argue over rituals and rites involving Muslim prayers or the placement of a talisman.

The pairing of La Pirogue with Fuocoammare provoked conversation about narrative perspectives, and about hope. Rosi’s recent documentary portrays the arrival of asylum seekers to the Italian island of Lampedusa; although it does not focus on individual migrant narratives, it does emphasize their rescue and entrance into EU territory. Touré’s 2012 film instead depicts the intimate narrative of a group of migrants as they prepare for and set out towards Europe on a journey which not all survive.

This pairing and the discussion with Profs. Brunner-Sung and Kodo also reminded those of us in the audience that although Baye Laye’s story is fictional, it is based on the migration of thousands of young men in just such vessels over at least the last decade, and many of these journeys end in tragedy. A note at the end of the film states that at least 5,000 of the 30,000 migrants who attempted this voyage from West Africa prior to the making of this film did not survive. As Prof. Kodo remarked, “This is the reality of our time.”

Viewers left the theater quietly, many of us still taking it in.


Film Screening: The Pirogue

Director: Moussa Toure, Senegal/ France/Germany, 2012
Screening Date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Wexner Center for the Arts
Cost: $8 general public; $6 Wexner Center members,
students, senior citizens; $3 children under 12
Followed by Associate Professor in History Ousman Kobo and Global Mobility Project team member Vera Brunner-Sung.

A stunning screenshot from the film.  The solidarity of 31 Africans, fleeing to Spain in a canoe, is tested once they run into trouble.

Baye Laye is the captain of a fishing pirogue. Like many of his Senegalese compatriots, he sometimes dreams of new horizons, where he can earn a better living for his family. When he is offered to captain one of the many pirogues that head towards Europe via the Canary Islands, he reluctantly accepts the job, knowing full-well the dangers that lie ahead. Leading a group of 30 men who don’t all speak the same language, some of whom have never seen the sea, Baye Laye will confront many perils in order to reach the distant coasts of Europe.


Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) and “Practices of Reception”

by Eleanor Paynter, PhD Student, Department of Comparative Studies

An audience of OSU students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered at the Wexner on Tuesday, Jan. 24, for a viewing and discussion of the award-winning and Oscar-nominated Italian documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), directed by Gianfranco Rosi and released in 2016. Set on the island of Lampedusa, south of mainland Sicily, Fuocoammare follows two main narratives: the daily life of Samuele, an inquisitive Lampedusan boy who plays in the island’s rugged landscape; and the regular rescue of asylum seekers as the crowded boats in which they cross the Mediterranean approach Italian territory.

After the viewing, three panelists discussed the powerful juxtaposition of these two narratives: Vera Brunner-Sung, filmmaker and Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at OSU, and member of the Global Mobility team; Peter Gatrell, historian at the University of Manchester and expert on displacement in the modern world; and Jonathan Mullins, an Italian Cultural Studies scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian at OSU. Their conversation covered issues ranging from the representation of what has become known as Europe’s refugee crisis, to the treatment for Samuele’s lazy eye, to an emphasis on the technology of what Mullins called “the practices of reception.” Rescue scenes are usually preceded, for example, by shots of the large equipment used to intercept SOS calls and visualize the location of arriving ships.

In connecting the two primary narratives, the panel raised the question of the documentary’s essential focus; Gatrell commented that Fuocoammare seemed, in the end, to be not about migration, but about the island itself. As Brunner-Sung discussed, the film uses long shots and slow camera movements to allow the viewer to engage with the physical space of Lampedusa; these techniques, said Mullins, also play with notions of near and far. How close is a boat? How distant is the crisis?

Yet, panelists agreed, the film is also troubling and prompts viewers to consider the representation of asylum seekers and refugees and the film’s seeming insistence on keeping Samuele’s story separate from that of the rescue narrative: this is not about an encounter. One of the challenges for any writer or filmmaker dealing with precarious subjects is the issue of representation: Does the depiction essentialize? Does it, at another extreme, anonymize? Gatrell noted that, other than rescue, the circumstances shaping the “crisis” occur, for the most part, off-screen.

I weigh in here as someone focused on contemporary migration to Italy in my own work, and as a viewer who found herself quite moved by the film’s oscillation between narratives about Samuele and about the arrival of asylum seekers. In this juxtaposition, I see Lampedusa itself emerging as a place of reckoning: Samuele tries to come to terms with his physical relationship to the island (a fisherman shouldn’t get seasick); border patrol agents and rescue workers transport hundreds of asylum seekers from sinking boats to coast guard vessels, to identification/detention centers known as CIE (Centri di identificazione e espulsione). For arriving asylum seekers, the island represents rescue and extreme precarity and, as such, appears as a space of trauma. Finally seated on a coast guard ship, many seem in shock; one asylum seeker pours water over her head.

Since Gatrell’s lecture on historicizing refugees and displacement and the public viewing of Fuocoammare, U.S. immigration and asylum policy has entered a global spotlight. In light of President Trump’s recent executive orders on border security and immigration, I find it difficult to reflect on this film without asking about its reception by a U.S. audience, and its relevance for a U.S. viewership. Is Lampedusa too far away for U.S. viewers to connect the urgency of Mediterranean migration with questions being asked about U.S. borders? The film’s Oscar nomination, in the documentary category, and its celebration by critics, makes it likely to reach a wide international audience in the coming months, including U.S. cinema-goers. How might a film such as this affect public responses to forced displacement and immigration policy? Can a film that emphasizes the mechanized routine of migrant reception at Italian shores provoke compassion in audiences outside Europe for the 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world, and for those in other countries who want to come to the U.S. for study, for work, for family, or for their own safety?


Film Screening: Fire at Sea

Director: Gianfranco Rosi, Italy, 2016
Screening Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Wexner Center for the Arts
Cost: $8 general public; $6 Wexner Center members,
students, senior citizens; $3 children under 12
Followed by discussion with OSU Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian Jonathan Mullins and guest Peter Gatrell

Samuele Pucillo in “Fire at Sea,” a documentary by Gianfranco Rosi. Credit

Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for best documentary feature, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary observes Europe’s migrant crisis from the vantage point of a Mediterranean island where hundreds of thousands of refugees, fleeing war and poverty, have landed in recent decades. Rosi shows the harrowing work of rescue operations but devotes most of the film to the daily rhythms of Lampedusa, seen through the eyes of a doctor who treats casualties and performs autopsies, and a feisty but anxious pre-teen from a family of fishermen for whom it is simply a peripheral fact of life. With its emphasis on the quotidian, the film reclaims an ongoing tragedy from the abstract sensationalism of media headlines. (New York Film Festival copy)