Speaking for Ourselves

London Migration Film Festival includes first musical in 2021 programme

London Migration Film Festival includes first musical in 2021 programme

Daniel Nelson

 Migrant Voice - London Migration Film Festival includes first musical in 2021 programme

Meet Lina From Lima, who’s about to return to Peru after 10 years as a housekeeper to a rich Chilean family.

She’s finally going to see her son again, who has grown in her absence from a small child to an adolescent.

No, it’s not another grim film about migrant labour. It’s a gripping, funny musical.

It’s part of the London Migration Film Festival, which is run by a group of London-based women “each holding academic interest in and personal experiences of migration”.

Lina From Lima is totally subversive,” says collective member Laura Stahnke, who works for a migrant rights charity, “When you hear about female domestic workers you think it’s a downer.  Lina is queen of her own story. She’s an economic migrant but she isn’t being exploited, subjugated and sad. This film recognises the full humanity of Lina.”

It’s the first musical in the festival’s six-year history, but the collective’s overall aim is to humanise the issue of migration and to challenge how people think, and talk, about it.

“The focus should not be on being passive victims,” says fellow organiser Lily Parrott, “partly because of this the genre we like most is comedy, which does a great job in creating affection rather than pity."

“A lot of films are sad and while we welcome them in the programme, a lot of migrants know that not everything in their experience of migration was sad.”

There are 27 films in this year’s programme – selected from searches and submissions – compared with eight in its first year, 2016.

In the beginning the team knew nothing about running a film festival, but they’ve learned fast: “We were total novices but we’ve taught ourselves about the industry.”

The festival finances itself — everything is paid for by the sale of tickets, which in pre-Covid 2019 numbered almost 2,000. This year online screenings should expand viewer numbers. A number of films will be available, free, for the week of the festival and the following week.

Parrott, who works as an immigration lawyer, says that relevance is one of the selection factors: “This year for example, we have a film on climate emergency [Whether the Weather is Fine, in which three characters must decide whether to stay on a typhoon-struck island in The Philippines or move to Manila].”

Also reflecting the headlines are a couple of films focussing on Afghans; Four Seasons in a Day on the UK-Ireland border; docu-fiction on Sudanese refugees, Chance; and Purple Sea, which charts the sinking of a refugee boat using footage from a waterproof camera.

Another factor in selecting films is ensuring a geographic spread. Gender is a theme this year, too. “A lot of films focus on women protagonists, showing their autonomy rather than reducing them to passivity,” says Parrott.

It’s all a long way since that first festival. “Lily and I were doing masters’ in migration studies,” recalls Stahnke. “We were going to a lot of events about migration and migrants. We often felt things weren’t quite right in terms of representation, so why not try to do our own events."

Both women agree that interest in migration has skyrocketed. “There’s a lot of creativity going into filmmaking around migration these days, and there’s a lot more fiction, unabashedly focussing on migration.”

And they both insist that they are particularly interested in attracting audiences who haven’t developed fully formed opinions about migration: “They may want to watch a musical, like Lina from Lima. We are trying to be attractive for those not fully sold on migration issues.”

Image credit: A screenshot of Lina from Lima, courtesy of Migration Collective

The London Migration Film Festival, documentaries, features, shorts, Q&As + workshops, 25 November - 1 December.

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