- Film run: 60’
- Concept: Chiara Brambilla
- Direction: Chiara Brambilla, Sergio Visinoni
- Script: Antonino Cusumano, Chiara Brambilla, Alessio Angelo
- Anthropological Research and Consulting: Chiara Brambilla, Alessio Angelo
- Production Coordination: BC Today Agenzia di Comunicazione
- Camera Operators: Riccardo Baratella, Leonardo Bruzzese, Alberto Micheli
- Editing and Post-producing: Riccardo Baratella
Houdoud al bahr is a documentary film based on conceptual reflection and ethnographic research conducted by the Centre for Research on Complexity (Ce.R.Co.) of the University of Bergamo within the EU-FP7 EUBORDERSCAPES project.
Houdoud al bahr is an Arabic expression that literally means ‘the borders of the sea’. The title comes from discussion with some of the young protagonists of the film and the documentary tries to describe the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this title. The original title in Italian ‘I confine del mare’ is the literal translation from the Arabic. Yet, after discussion with the protagonists we decided to translate it into English using the expression ‘Mediterranean frontiers’, making explicit reference to the Mediterranean and using the word ‘frontier’ in plural instead of the word ‘border’. It is also worth considering the subtitle: ‘Mazara – Mahdia’, which allows us to zoom in on the particular case study in the Italian/Tunisian borderland that the documentary tells us about.
The film is intended to dis-orient spectators in an attempt to emancipate them, by favouring an active engagement of spectators who are called to critically interrogate the images they are seeing. In this sense, the film wishes to contribute to overcoming the essentially passive routines of the mass media visualizing the Italian/Tunisian borderscape at and across the Mediterranean.
Gazing into the Euro/African border and migration nexus through the borderscape lens, Houdoud al bahr provides an alternative multi-sited choreography of the Italian/Tunisian borderland. By adopting such a multi-sited approach, the film aims to reveal the complexity of this Euro/African borderscape that is perceived as mobile and relational, resembling a fluid terrain of a multitude of socio-cultural, political and economic negotiations, claims and counterclaims that are actualized at the level of everyday practice. In so doing, the documentary illustrates how the Mediterranean Europe and North Africa have become enmeshed in multiple layers of competition and integration through trends of colonialism, migration, and the formation of transnational communities.
In the film, attention is given to ‘traces’ in the border landscape on both the Northern and Southern shores telling us about the genealogy of the Italian/Tunisian borderscape. Great emphasis is placed on the need to ‘humanize’ the borderland, by giving attention to experiences. Indeed, borders are not experienced in the same way by all people. Consequently, Houdoud al bahr intends to describe how ‘pluritopical’ and ‘pluriversal’ experiences of borders often clash with the assumptions of geopolitical theory and dominant mass media representations, and to investigate how the rhetoric and policies of borders impact, conflict and are in a dynamic relationship with everyday life; how these rhetoric and policies are experienced, lived and interpreted by those who inhabit the Italian/Tunisian borderscape. The documentary is also aimed at responding to the need to search for new ways to give voice to these experiences and make them visible, embracing the very concept of ‘visibility’ as elaborated by Hannah Arendt – a kind of visibility understood as a first way to access the public sphere, or as the precondition for active political participation.
During the research, we have worked with young people living in Mazara del Vallo (Sicily), whose families are originally from nearby Tunisia, to capture their kaleidoscopic perceptions, experiences, representations, and imaginaries of the Italian/Tunisian borderscape. A variety of qualitative research methods have been used:
Young people’s viewpoints have been incorporated into a broader ethnographic work, also involving other kinds of actors, on both sides of the borderland and mainly focusing on urban borderscapes of Mazara del Vallo, in Italy, and Mahdia, in Tunisia.
Houdoud al bahr attempts to take the chance to relate the somewhat abstract level of conceptual change in critical border studies with actual borderscaping as practices at and across the Mediterranean through which fluctuating borders are imagined, materially established, experienced, lived as well as reinforced and blocked but also crossed, traversed and inhabited. This could help move toward alternative border imaginaries ‘beyond the line’ able to describe the shifting processes of b/ordering in-between Europe and Africa; thereby denying that Europe and Africa can be reduced to single bounded entities and exploring transversal Euro/African borderscapes that contribute to dis-closing Africa in Europe and Europe in Africa.