GERMAN 701 - Textual and Visual Interpretations
Section: 001 Cinema and Migration: Ways of Seeing Refugees
Term: FA 2019
Subject: German (GERMAN)
Department: LSA Germanic Languages & Literatures
Credits:
3
Waitlist Capacity:
unlimited
Repeatability:
May be elected four times for credit. May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:

According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 45,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day because of conflict and persecution. As a result, there are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. In Europe the situation came to a head in 2015, when the numbers of refugees from Syria, in particular, soared, Germany opened its borders, and the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel declared “wir schaffen das”: we can do it.

Four years on, the European political and cultural landscape has been redrawn. Cinema and other media have played a central role in this process, whose visual dimensions are difficult to overlook. The plight of refugees has been seared into public consciousness through widely circulating images of overcrowded camps, of treks along the Balkan route and sea rescues on the Mediterranean, of emaciated figures in thermal foil or the corpse of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish shore. Meanwhile, in an emerging transnational corpus of refugee films, filmmakers have begun to shape this visual repertoire into documentaries and feature films, attempting to find visual and narrative strategies for addressing and intervening in key issues of migration. They investigate the mediated confrontation between self and other; the visual tropes of ‘crisis’; the construction of borders and the topographies of flight. Often turning the gaze reflexively on their own act of visualization, these films interrogate the ethics of documentary and, indeed, “ways of seeing” (John Berger): of looking, watching, gazing, and “regarding the pain of others” (Sontag).

The seminar takes stock of this emerging set of films, which include everything from sweeping, universalizing panoramas such as Ai Wei Wei’s Human Flow (2017) to the intensely individualized allegorical scenario explored in Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx (2018); from the observational stance of an award-winning documentary such as Gianfranco Rosi’s Fuocoammare (2016) or of Karim Aïnouz’s Zentralflughafen THF (Tempelhof Central Aiport, 2018) to the filmmaker’s increasing engagement with his subject in Jakob Preuss’s Als Paul über das Meer kam (When Paul Came Across the Sea, 2017); from the iPhone aesthetic of Midnight Traveler (Hassan Fazili, 2019) to the utter visual reductionism and abstraction of Merle Kröger and Philipp Scheffner’s Havarie (2016). We will submit each of these recent films to close scrutiny but also contextualize them with reference to contemporary and historical photographic images, visual cultures, and discourses of migration (WPA Photographers, Human Rights discourse, “The Family of Man;” Turkish-German cinema); theoretical readings on photography, documentary, and cinematic narration (Barthes, Berger, Sontag, Renov, Nichols); as well as cultural theories of Home, Exile, Refuge, and Migration (Arendt, Baumann, Sassen). Besides taking stock of the shared motifs and thematic concerns in these films, we will devote our attention in particular to their mobilization of vision and the gaze: what are the ethics of (mediated) looking, who gazes at whom, and how?

GERMAN 701 - Textual and Visual Interpretations
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
P
31412
Open
9
 
-
M 5:00PM - 8:00PM
002 (SEM)
P
33399
Open
11
 
-
Th 3:00PM - 6:00PM
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