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Frontiers of the Political: 'Closed Sea' and the Cinema of Discontent'

Ponzanesi, Sandra

In many European migrant films, the bodily inscription of postcolonial subjects, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is marked as other, and therefore socially ordered elsewhere. This is achieved through physical displacement to the outskirts of society, into liminal spaces that function as waiting rooms or holding areas preventing entry into Europe. These zones of marginalisation and exclusion, heterotopias or non-places, can nevertheless become places of semi-belonging and transformation. This chapter focuses on Mare Chiuso (Closed Sea, Italy, 60 min.) by filmmaker Andrea Segre, a documentary comprising interviews, archival footage and original film captured with mobile cameras by migrants at the moment of interception by Italian patrol guards. Here the issue of legality and citizenship is addressed from subaltern positions, giving voice and space to African migrants trying to reach the shores of Southern Italy, only to be deported by Italian patrols to Libyan detention camps, in violation of the principles of Human Rights.

The aim of the documentary is to relate what actually happened to African refugees on the Italian ships during these ‘push-back operations’, and in Libyan prisons after deportation. The filmmakers met their witnesses at the Shousha refugee camp, at the border between Libya and Tunisia, and in two reception camps for asylum seekers (C.A.R.A.) in southern Italy. The interviews they conducted with the refugees and footage from the refugees’ own films taken with a smartphone constitute the main part of the documentary, along with a session of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where one of the witnesses sued Italy. Hence it was through their own filming on a smartphone that these citizen media activists and refugees managed to challenge the illegality of Italy’s ‘push-back operations’. This chapter argues that recounting one’s own history by recording it, is a way of taking charge of one’s own representation and reversing the gaze, making the inhospitable ‘mare chiuso’ a site of protest, but also a site of denouncing injustice and renegotiating citizenship.

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