The Land Between Captures Stories of Migration

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The opening scene of the film The Land Between features hundreds of dark and shadowed figures moving through the illuminated lights of lampposts and helicopters rising from three erect barricades. The figures are blurred, and as a result seem to mesh into an unresolved hoard of black silhouettes, indistinguishable from one another, unrecognizable as individuals.

The opening scene of The Land Between does not feature the journey of blurred animal hoards, but rather the film documents the journeys and attempts of sub-Saharan peoples migrating across the Spain-Morocco Border. The city of Melilla, positioned at the Northern coast of Morocco, is recognized as a sovereign Spanish enclave. As it is situated on the brim of African territory, the city has become the sole route for African migrants seeking refuge or European citizenship. While the position of the Melilla border has aided in accessibility for migrants, the separation between the European and African sovereignty by three nine-foot fences entangled with solid barbed wire and razor wire rings substantially minimized their chances of crossing the border. The fence is financed by the Spanish government and substantially funded by the European Union. European authorities have also elicited the aide of Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement to assist in the exertion of authority and preservation of the border. Despite these challenges hundreds of migrants continue their attempts to cross the fortified Melilla border desperately seeking a new life.

Among the hundreds of African migrants traversing towards Spain, the film focused on a Malian camp functioning in the Gourougou Mountains of Morocco, and specifically individualizing the stories of Yacou and Aicha. Yacou migrated from Mali at 18 leaving his young wife and child behind. When asked why he left Mali he replied, “No member of my family has anything. I was the first adventurer.” His decision to migrate was economically motivated as his hopes after arriving in Spain were to make “his fortune.” Though as he shared his future aspirations, the difficulty of his current situation hindered the thought that he would ever stand on European soil. Aicha, a mother of four, fled from the civil war in the Ivory Coast to the Mountains of Gourougou while pregnant with her fourth child. After finding her husband tortured and dead in their family home, she became a political refugee in an attempt to escape the violence surrounding her. She applied for asylum when she arrived in Morocco, and she was denied. Aicha was forced to make the decision to return to war or to escape death in the Mountains of Morocco.

Both Aicha and Yacou discussed the unfathomable adversity of their daily lives; in fact, this constant adversity was referred to as “suffering” throughout the camp. The film featured the migrants two-hour walk to retrieve water, sleeping in tents forged from plastic and cardboards, and discussed the brutality of Moroccan and Spanish police. In an effort to display how these brave individuals stay in high spirits amidst obstacles, the film contained a spirited football game and a boisterous community dinner.

Australian filmmaker David Fedele began the film during the Winter of 2013 and concluded in Spring of 2014. During his filming period in Morocco, he was able to capture a small, but seemingly impactful account on the sentiments and hardships sustained by sub-Saharan migrants in 78 minutes. The constant need to look away from the scenes or physically cover one’s eyes became routine during its presentation. The scenes of Aicha’s four young children walking down from the mountains of Gourougou in search of food or her youngest child —a small baby—offering her his food in their cardboard tent forged a strong emotional responsibility to protect the children from the only life that they know. Fedele utilized meals as a setting to divulge testimonies and stimulate conversation, effectively receiving the unedited opinions from the migrants. As it is embedded within Malian culture to sit and eat for hours discussing the happenings from day to day, the authentic and maintained culture of the Malian camp community is adirmable in their strenuous situation. Unsurprisingly, the film’s content and emotional resonance demonstrated a successful execution as it received a total of five awards including “Best Film” from Naples Human Rights Film Festival (2014) and the “Crossroads Award” Festival delle Terre (2014). The realities of migrant circumstances left viewers with a humble and forthright stance on migration and a motivation to aide in their crossing. Undeniably, Fedele’s decision to film the clandestine migration expresses genuine interest in the subject, but as Fedele believes in dispersion of knowledge the film is publicized on YouTube for free. Though the seemingly humanitarian intent of the film do not go without critical questioning of the film.

At a screening hosted by the course Anthropology 256: “‘Migration Crisis’ in Europe,”  a class-based formal discussion preceding the film allowed viewers to express confusion concerning the authenticity of the film. The concurrent difficulties with filming migration are the questioning of whether every angle and moment of affliction is depicted. The constant terror of physical brutality by Moroccan police was feared by the migrants, and during the film references to police raids of their camp and images depicting their sustained wounds circulated throughout interviews. Though audiences never witness these explicit violence as cameras are conveniently removed from the physical brutalities sustained by the Malian community during the night. As a result, the film escapes from the vital realities of migrant living. The general notion of the Australian filmmaker’s ability to leave when the harm was most likely to occur attributed to his citizen status privilege which in turn humbled observers.While the rolling cameras in the migrant camp explained the surprise faces of migrants, there are also looks of disdain and anger, questioning the general presence of the filmmakers. In a particular scene two men sewing the ripped fronts of their shoes questioned the motivations of Fedele’s film presence saying, “They make money off of our suffering.”