By Jacqueline Grima
Fans of multinational and multilingual film gathered at Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) at the weekend for the Beyond Babel film festival. The event, hosted by Manchester Met’s Film, Languages and Media in Education group (FLAME), formed part of the Humanities in Public (HiP) ‘WORLD’ strand.
The event was introduced by Manchester Met Spanish Section Lead and FLAME director Dr Carmen Herrero. Speaking to Humanity Hallows, Carmen talked about the reasons behind staging the annual festival: “Beyond Babel was a very successful event last year and is back by popular demand. Manchester is a very multilingual society and sometimes that is not reflected in cultural activities.”
She added, “A film festival is a celebration and today we want to celebrate the richness of our community. Cinema is an ideal medium with which to do that.”
Carmen told the audience how she grew up watching films at her local cinema in Spain on Saturday and Sunday mornings. She said, “In those days, cinema was very cheap and was a great experience.” She also talked about the multicultural society that is Manchester with many different languages heard on a daily basis.
The first film of the event, Amreeka, was introduced by Manchester Met PhD student Hanan Ben Nafa. Hanan talked about the background of the film, produced in Arabic and English, which was directed by Cherien Dabis and was premiered at France’s Sundance Film Festival in 2009. She also talked about the fear and suspicion that surrounded Arabs in America after 9/11 and the Iraq war.
Amreeka tells the story of single mother, Muna, who, struggling with life in the occupied West Bank, moves with her teenage son Fadi to the USA. There she attempts to begin a new life living with her sister’s family.
The film shows the challenges that Muna faces as she attempts to find a job and tries to cope with prejudice and preconceptions. As one prospective employer tells her: “Don’t blow the place up.” She also has the challenge of keeping on top of Fadi’s behaviour as he navigates the American high school system and struggles with the prejudices shown by his own peers.
As Hanan said, “The film gives Arabs dimensions and shows who they really are.”
The second film was introduced by Dr Isabelle Vanderschelden, Senior Lecturer from the Manchester Met Department of Languages, Information and Communications and member of FLAME. Speaking about the film, Samba directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Isabelle said: “It’s a difficult film to class. It’s quite funny in places and quite serious in other places. In France, we would call it a drama-comedy.”
Samba stars Omar Sy as protagonist Samba Cissé, an immigrant from Senegal who has lived with his Uncle in France for 10 years. Despite trying to stay on the right side of immigration laws, Samba lives in fear of arrest and deportation. His life changes when he meets volunteer immigration worker Alice, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the two forming a relationship as Alice helps Samba stay in the country he has come to think of as home. The film also stars French actor Tahar Rehim as an Arab immigrant that finds it easier to pass himself off as Brazilian and Izia Higelin as Alice’s fellow immigration worker.
Despite the film’s humorous approach to the challenges facing immigrants in Europe, Samba carries a serious message. As Isabelle Vanderschelden said: “There is an undertone of more serious political and social problems.”
Speaking about an immigrant’s life in France, she added, “Even if they are settled and have got their papers, the situation is still quite precarious.”
Audience reaction to the films was mostly positive, one attendee commenting on the socio-cultural and economic boundaries crossed as the immigrants formed relationships with those around them. Another audience member, however, felt that the first film Amreeka was slightly superficial in the way it seemed to skirt around some major issues.
The Beyond Babel festival will return to Manchester Met in 2017 with the members of FLAME, including research assistant India Morgan, hoping for it soon to become a series of events. To read more about the FLAME team and their efforts to develop research and knowledge exchange in the areas of Pedagogy, Languages, Media and Film, see the FLAME webpage.
The next event in the Humanities in Public festival’s ‘WORLD’ strand is ‘Global Girls’ on Friday 13th May. For tickets and further information, see the HiP webpage.