The Diasporic Family in Cinema

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Media Arts

Abstract

Migrant and diasporic cinema challenges national and ethnocentric myths and is centrally concerned with the politics of identity and belonging. The family as a prime site of socialisation and identity formation, therefore, plays a particularly prominent role. It functions as a microcosm of the ambivalent relationship between the homeland and the host country and its frequently conflicting traditions and value systems. Moreover, the preponderance of family narratives in diasporic cinema can be attributed to a semi-autobiographical impulse: many films about diasporic family life are based on and authenticated by the filmmakers' biographies or that of their parents. However, diasporic and ethnic minority families and their cross-cultural encounters with dominant social groups are also represented in films made by non-diasporic filmmakers. This is not surprising since transnational mobility and migration are amongst the most powerful forces of social transformation in the contemporary world. They are at the centre of public and political debates that testify to the anxieties with which mass migration and resettlement are charged, both for migrating and receiving communities. Conversely, media discourses suggest that diasporic subject positions are gradually becoming an asset rather than a liability, as state leaders and transnational elites publicly promote their ethnic roots/routes or dual heritage.

This research project takes a theme-centred, transnationally comparative approach to the diasporic family. It focuses on the four most established diasporic film cultures in Europe (Black British, Asian British, Maghrebi French and Turkish German cinema) which simultaneously gained critical mass in the 1980s. Hollywood and transnational Bollywood films in which the diasporic family takes centre stage provide further comparative contexts and reference points. The research proposes that sustained narrative treatments of family life enhance the cross-over and mainstream appeal of diasporic cinema. Kinship is an issue of universal significance, but the structures - nuclear, multi-generational, dual heritage, etc. - and value systems that underpin family life are always culturally specific. Therefore, the construction of the diasporic family on film is quintessentially concerned with the question: How different is the diasporic family? Displacement and dispersal, the rupture of cultural and familial ties, language barriers and the experience of racism and social marginalisation put the diasporic family under pressure. These factors are shown to lead to a destabilisation of family structures and identities, resulting in dysfunctional domesticity. But on the other hand, diasporic cinema also foregrounds the benefits of non-Western family values and kinship networks and thereby critiques the Western cult of the individual and the alleged superiority of the white bourgeois family.

Going beyond a thematic exploration of dominant themes, such as the experience of coming-of-age, memories of migration, family secrets, weddings and arranged marriages, this study also attends to the films' aesthetic practices. It suggests that diasporic family narratives are characterised by a distinctive aesthetic approach that is borne out of the multiple, ambivalent affiliations of its creators. The project examines how diasporic filmmakers modify and revitalise the conventions of genres commonly associated with the representation of the family by mixing them with generic templates and aesthetic traditions derived from their cultures of origin, thereby bringing about the World Cinema turn in European and other Western cinemas. Finally, through promoting a dialogue with filmmakers and other media professionals and through tracing and reconstructing the films' media reception, the project seeks understand how narrative treatments of the diasporic family on screen intervene in topical debates about the crisis of the family and cultural diversity.

Planned Impact

The research project is based on the premise that migrant and diasporic film - alongside music - must be seen as the most significant and popular and artistic practice with regard to the (self-)representation of migrant and diasporic groups. Many contemporary diasporic films have enjoyed considerable mainstream appeal. This is particularly true of films about the diasporic family. Moroever, the issues addressed in the research, such as the opportunities and conflicts arising from migration and cultural diversity and the transformation of family structures and values, are both topical and controversial. Against this background, the project on The Diasporic Family in Cinema promises to elicit widespread interest far beyond the academic sphere.

Given the project's focus on film, the research will be of particular relevance to filmmakers addressing cultural diversity issues, policy-makers in the media industry, film and television producers, film funding bodies, film distributors and organisers of film festivals. By creating opportunities for the exchange of ideas and knowledge transfer and by deploying a broad-based dissemination strategy (including a website, podcasts, an international Symposium, public film screenings, academic papers and publications) the project will increase the visibility and cultural prestige of migrant and diasporic cinema. This in turn will benefit stakeholders operating in this sector and will, in the long term, further enhance the opportunities for ethnic-led filmmaking.

I have evidence of this kind of impact from the AHRC-funded Migrant and Diasporic Cinema Network, which I led between 2006 and 2008. Filmmaker and Network participant Gareth Jones, launched the BABYLON film development initiative in conjunction with the Network. BABYLON promotes ethnic minority filmmaking in Europe. To date it has supported the development of 38 screenplays, two films are in pre-production, one film was completed and shown at the Locarno festival. My collaboration with Gareth Jones and BABYLON is ongoing and is anticipated to underpin the impact of the Diasporic Family project.

The project's dissemination strategy targets complementary constituencies and aims to facilitate cross-fertilisation and productive synergies. The interactive website ensures that the research is accessible to the interested public and relevant stakeholders. It provides a platform for the virtual exchange of knowledge and expertise between these various constituencies. The website will be maintained for at least five years, since impact rarely occurs immediately. For example, the Migrant and Diasporic Cinema website (www.migrantcinema.net) resulted in me and another Networker being invited 22 months after the funding period to a high-profile international symposium organised by the WDR (West German Broadcasting Corporation) in Cologne. The event was initiated by the WDR's Commissioner for Integration and Cultural Diversity and explored the concept of Heimat in the age of transnational migration. It brought together filmmakers, journalists, policy advisers and international film scholars, received good press coverage and attracted more than 400 people. I also contributed to a television documentary on the subject, which was broadcast by the WDR in October 2009.

I am confident that I can create a similar impact for the proposed project. The London-based Symposium will showcase the research and raise my profile as an expert on diasporic film cultures. This puts me in a good position to act as consultant to policy-makers, film funding councils, film festival organisers and other stakeholders. Finally, the public film screenings and Q&A sessions at the Ciné Lumière in London target the interested public, alongside scholars and industry stakeholders, and aim to positively change perceptions and misconceptions of diasporic communities and
 
Description Daniela Berghahn raised public awareness of issues surrounding migrant and diasporic families and their representation in film through public film screenings and Q and A sessions with filmmakers at the Ciné Lumière and the Goethe Institute in London. These events brought contested socio-political issues such as the practice of honour killings (When We Leave) and the marginalisation/integration of diasporic families (Almanya - Welcome to Germany) to the attention of the wider cinema-going public. The public screenings, lectures and Q an A sessions which Berghahn organised were the British premieres of films that had been critically acclaimed or very popular in Germany but that had not found a distributor in the UK. The films' controversial themes sparked lively debates in the cinema and several teachers were inspired to study the films with their pupils. Berghahn created a public facing website www.farflungfamilies.net, which attracted 18,603 unique visitors with a total number of 39,566 page views between December 2010 and November 2014. The website has raised the public visibility of Berghahn's research on diasporic family films and has led to several international invitations (see details under Awards and Recognition and Engagement Activities) to contribute to public events, such as the 16th ZEMOS98 Festival in Seville in April 2014. The Festival was themed Remapping Europe and brought together artists, NGOs, activists, journalists and a few academics. It was devoted to immigration in European societies and was funded by the European Cultural Foundation. Berghahn was subsequently invited to serve on the nomination panel for the ECF Princess Margriet Award. This annual Award is given to European artists and thinkers whose work shows the potential of culture in creating an inclusive Europe. In June 2015, Berghahn has been invited to give a public lecture on 'Interethnic romance and mixed families in contemporary cinema' at LovingDay.NL in Amsterdam. LovingDay.NL is a public event celebrating mixed couples. The public event has been inspired by the American annual celebrations Loving Day, also on 12 June, the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision in the case of Loving vs. Virginia. In this momentous ruling, the United States Supreme Court abolished all anti-miscegentation laws remaining in force in 16 U.S. states at the time.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural
 
Description HARC Fellowship Welcoming Strangers
Amount £2,943 (GBP)
Funding ID n/a 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2011 
End 07/2012
 
Title Interactive website farflungfamilies.net with database of films and resources 
Description Public facing website with archive of significant research findings, events, podcasts and films about diasporic families. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Between December 2010 and November 2014, the website/database www.farflungfamilies.net attracted 18,603 unique visitors with a total number of 39,566 page views. 
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/
 
Description Far-Flung Families in Film Video Interview Facultimedia / You Tube 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I received further enquiries about my research into diasporic families in cinema.

Further invitations to conferences, seminars, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iElH586GzAI
 
Description Hacking the Veil 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Professor Berghahn was invited by the European Cultural Foundation to contribute to the 16th ZEMOS 98 Festival in Seville. This year's Festival theme was Remapping Europe and the focus was on the representation of migrants in the media and their memories in transit.
The encounter brought together artists, social activists, journalists and academics who, in a series of creative performances, working sessions and public conversations, explored three themes. The first day of the encounter was devoted to Hacking the Veil through challenging dominant media representations of immigrants.
Daniela Berghahn acted as Teller, conveying the main findings of collaborative working sessions on Day 1 to the general public of the ZEMOS 98 Festival. One of the key issues explored with regard to Hacking the Veil was how we can challenge and deconstruct images of immigrants in dominant media discourse.

Generate awareness of dominant media representations of immigrants amongst the wider public, artists and immigrant communities across Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://16festival.eng.zemos98.org/Understanding-Hacking-the-Veil
 
Description Inaugural Lecture at Research Centre, Cork, Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Inaugural Public Lecture at the Centre for Advanced Studies of Languages and Cultures, University College Cork.
Berghahn was invited to discuss her AHRC-funded research projects (Migrant cinema network and Fellowship about diasporic families in film) and explain how these projects generated further scholarship in the fields and significant impact in the creative industries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://vimeo.com/130521857
 
Description Introduction to public film screening at Goethe Institute London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The screening of Almanya - Welcome to Germany about a Turkish German immigrant family was well attended, especially by teachers and pupils. It sparked a lively discussion and inspired some teachers to study the film with their pupils in more depth.

The event raised awareness of a film not distributed in the UK and the social and cultural issues (prejudice, marginatlisation of ethnic minorities, integration, multiculturalism) that it addressed in an entertaining fashion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Negotiating between Artistic Ambitions, Funding and the Market Place 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The roundtable discussion was part of the conference The Diasporic Family in Cinema, organised by Berghahn. It aimed to explore how media practitioners negotiate between their artistic ambitions, the demands of the public funding bodies and the market in their construction of diasporic family life on screen and how these films intervene with ongoing media debates about hegemonic and minority cultures in Western societies.

The roundtable discussion engendered a lively dialogue between media practitioners, academics and the public.

The encounter of film producers and directors with a shared interest in independent cinema and ethnic minority/diasporic subjects led to further collaboration between them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/podcasts/item/negotiating_between_artistic_ambitions_funding_and_the...
 
Description Public Lecture Amsterdam, Netherlands 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote address at LovingDay.NL, Amsterdam, 12 June 2015
LovingDay.NL is a public event celebrating mixed couples. LovingDay.NL has been inspired by the American annual celebrations Loving Day, also on 12 June, the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision in the case of Loving vs. Virginia. In this momentous ruling, the United States Supreme Court abolished all anti-miscegentation laws remaining in force in 16 U.S. states at the time. The Supreme Court ruled: "There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause." LovingDay.NL has been celebrated since 2013 with an annual symposium at De Balie, the most important cultural centre for public debate in Amsterdam. De Balie is leading in organising public debate activities with national impact. In 2015, the LovingDay.NL programme is co-curated by Prof. Dr. Betty de Heart (Professor of Migration Law) at Amsterdam University's Centre for European Law and Governance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://lovingday.nl/programma/academisch-forum-in-spui25/
 
Description Public Lecture and Q&A at British Museum, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In conjunction with the major exhibition 'Germany: Memories of a Nation', the British Museum screened a series of significant German films. One of these films was Gegen die Wand / Head-On by Turkish German director Fatih Akin. Berghahn was invited to give a public lecture, introducing the film and answer questions by the audience after the film screening.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Public film screening Almanya - Welcome to Germany and Q &; A session with Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Almanya - Welcome to Germany premiered at the International Film Festival in Berlin in 2011 and has won numerous prestigious awards, including the German Film Prize for Best Screenplay and has attracted almost 1.5 million viewers in Germany alone. Despite its domestic and international success, to date Almanya - Welcome to Germany has not yet had a theatrical release in the UK. The screening which Daniela Berghahn organised at the Ciné Lumière in London was the film's UK premiere.
After the screening of Almanya - Welcome to Germany at the Ciné Lumière on 18 January 2012, Professor Daniela Berghahn interviewed the director-scriptwriter team, Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli.
The film and Q&A sparked a lively discussion with a large and diverse audience.

Teachers expressed interest to teach the film at school and discuss it with their pupils
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/podcasts/item/q_a_session_with_filmmakers
 
Description Public film screening of I for India and Q & A with filmmaker Sandhya Suri 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In the context of the conference The Diasporic Family in Cinema, which Daniela Berghahn organised in London on 21 May 2011, Sandhya Suri's documentary I FOR INDIA was shown. The screening was advertised to the general public even though the venue was not a commercial cinema. Suri's documentary is a chronicle of immigration in Britain, from the 1960s to the present day, as seen through the eyes of the filmmaker's own family and her father's movie camera. Sandhya Suri was able to use an extensive archive of cine letters and tape recordings, which her father Yash Pal Suri, a surgeon based in Britain, and her uncle, based in Meerut, India, exchanged over a period of forty odd years. Conference delegates appreciated the opportunity to discuss this intensely personal film with the filmmaker in a Q&A after the screening. Since the film was not widely released in the UK, for many delegates the screening at SOAS's Khalili Lecture Theatre was a genuine discovery of a very important diasporic family film. As one conference delegate commented, "I felt it was extremely important to have a first-hand illustration of a real diasporic family and their experiences. The documentary certainly confirmed the issues raised throughout the conference and supported the idea of the idea that diasporic family films have universal appeal."

Audience discussion suggested that there were changes in perception of immigrant families and their perceived 'otherness'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/events/item/the_diasporic_family_in_cinema
 
Description Public film screening of When We Leave and Q&A session with Feo Aladag 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The conference The Diasporic Family in Cinema was followed by a public film screening of Feo Aladag's award-winning film When We Leave at the Ciné Lumière in London. The feature film about an honour killing in a Turkish German family was Germany's Oscar nomination for 2011 and garnered a long list of prestigious awards, but has so far not found a UK distributor. It was, therefore, particularly rewarding to be able to make this important film accessible to a cinéphile audience (approx. 100 tickets were sold) who was eager to discuss not just the film's political and humanist message but also its remarkable cinematography in a stimulating Q&A session with writer-director Feo Aladag and Daniela Berghahn after the screening.

Raised awareness in the audience of the controversial issue of honour killings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/events/item/the_diasporic_family_in_cinema
 
Description Public lecture 'Families in motion: Migration with a touch of magic' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This public lecture was given by Daniela Berghahn prior to a public film screening of Almanya - Welcome to Germany (dir. Yasemin Samdereli, 2011) at the Ciné Lumière in London.

Abstract: Almanya - Welcome to Germany reconfigures earlier cinematic accounts of Turkish German migration and diaspora. It is the first cinematic representation of a Turkish German family spanning three generations. Whereas earlier diasporic family films, including Solino or The April Children focus on the first and second generations, Almanya, as well as the Maghrebi French Couscous, portray a three-generational extended family, comfortably settled in the 'host country' and with no desire to return to their 'homeland' for good. In contrast to other films in which the Turkish migrants are 'othered' on account of their different cultural values, language and religion, in Almanya, the Germans are 'the other'. The film's innovative aesthetics is achieved by a clever juxtaposition of archival footage, which conveys a sense of documentary realism and, by implication, historical authenticity, and magical realist sequences whose visual exuberance is in keeping with the vivid imagination the little boy Cenk, from whose point of view the story is told. In his flights of fancy the mundane and the difficult aspects of the migrant experience are commingled with the improbable and fantastic.

Two school classes completed questionnaires about the film and Q&A with filmmakers and described how it affected their perception of immigrants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/podcasts/item/families_in_motion_migration_with_a_touch_of_magic
 
Description Welcoming Strangers: Insights into Immigration on Film 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This public event, consisting of a lecture (see separate output), a film screening of Almanya - Welcome to Germany (Yasemin Samdereli, Germany 2011) and the Q&A session with the filmmakers Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli allowed Daniela Berghahn to disseminate some the research findings of her AHRC-funded project The Diasporic Family in Cinema to the general public. It also gave the British public the opportunity to watch a film which has taken the German box-office by storm (with more than 1.4 million viewers) since it premiered at the International Berlin Film Festival in 2011 but which has not yet had a theatrical release in Britain.

Changed awareness of immigrants in our society (pupils in audience completed and returned questionnaires)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.farflungfamilies.net/events/item/welcoming_strangers_almanya_welcome_to_germany