- Listen to Alessandra and Gabriele story
This interview was conducted on the back of the recent feature on Stories from Syria: https://communityreporter.net/story/stories-syria-0. Both Alessandra D’Onofrio and Gabriele Del Grande have worked with migrant stories for a number of years and in a variety of ways. I was interested in how they presented the stories of other people—particularly of displaced people—and the challenges they encountered whilst doing this.
For her PhD in Anthropology, Media and Performance with the University of Manchester, Alessandra is currently working with Egyptian migrants to Italy, telling their stories in ways that utilise performance and audio-visual material alongside verbal accounts.
Gabriele is a journalist who has reported on political instability for over 10 years. His blog, Fortress Europe, has collected the stories surrounding the deaths and shipwrecks of African migrants in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe since 1988: http://fortresseurope.blogspot.it/
His most recent film, On the Bride’s Side, was supported by the biggest crowd-funding campaign in Italy, and was selected for the 71st Venice International Film Festival, winning three awards from the jury. For Gabriele, On the Bride’s Side is the culmination of his journey of thought concerning border crossing.
Alessandra has a passion for stories that belongs to her own experience, originating from her childhood. Her experience and her parents’ experience of being uprooted was one of the reasons she became interested in the stories of migrants. She was curious as to how they make sense of their lived experience amidst this constant movement.
Gabriele’s interest in stories, on the other hand, stems from being very aware of his own story. He has a background of extreme ‘rootedness’, born a son of a village where his house was built by the grandfather of his grandfather. Starting out as a journalist, he became fascinated by the stories of these adventures of border crossing.
Both feel a sense of responsibility to the people whose stories they are telling, and they believe it is important to leave the audience with more than a rational understanding of individuals’ predicaments. Alessandra wants her projects to allow audiences to link what they are hearing or seeing with their own experiences. It is this identification that is crucial for her.
For example, both worked on a short film titled ‘Love in the Time of Frontier’. As love is a universal concept with which we can all identify, it allows us to be able to recognise ourselves in the characters on screen. Once you talk about love, the struggle of the characters and the injustice of their situation becomes so obvious. This way, you are still talking about human rights, but in a vocabulary that is not bureaucratic or activist, but the far more comprehensible language of love.
Another thing of importance to them is the untold story. Gabriele identifies how often the most interesting things come when the recorder is off. There is a complexity in voices that often contradict each other, and for Alessandra, it therefore becomes important to tell stories not just in words. She aims to capture the gaps and silences in people’s narratives, ensuring that the non-verbal, too, is given a platform.
Alessandra feels there is a lack of intermingling here (in the UK) between people and refugees. In Italy, the spaces are much more heterogeneous and becoming friends with refugees is much more socially possible. Being friends with people she believes to be vital to the understanding of the refugee experience: it allows an empathy, making their experiences clearer and not so far removed from one’s own.
The openness of the spaces in Milan is ultimately what led to the development of what became On the Bride’s Side.
Milan is a gathering hub and transit point for Syrian refugees who come from the coast and travel from the city to other destinations in Europe. Meeting refugees who fled the war in Syria at the train station is what triggered the idea of the film.
Gabriele and two friends, a poet and a filmmaker, combined their skills to make the film recounting the 4-day journey of five Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Milan to Stockholm—a story which they themselves were as much a part of as the refugees.
They decided to help them complete their journey to Sweden—hopefully avoiding getting themselves arrested for trafficking—by faking a wedding. With a Palestinian friend dressed as the bride, and a dozen or so Italian and Syrian friends as wedding guests, they crossed halfway over Europe on a journey of 3000 kilometres.
This was not just about filming something, but about creating something – creating a story. Together they created the story of an act of civil disobedience, of human empathy and humour. Throughout the film there are mentions of other stories—of tragic tales that point more specifically to the disaster of the war—but the main story is one of individuals able to recognise community beyond state borders.
Watching the film, it is not about feeling pity or sadness towards the refugees, but more a feeling of envy at being a mere spectator to this adventure. The documentary renegotiates the idea of borders, challenges restricted movement and embraces a humanity challenged by exclusionary politics.
The film’s underlying message reveals itself when Tasnim, ‘the Bride’, writes across a wall: “The sky is everybody’s. No borders”.