Is it true to state that the “true voyage is return”, as Ursula Le Guin wrote in her novel The Dispossessed? Or do the words of Thomas Wolfe and Chet Baker ring truer? "You can't go home again" – these are words which imply the impossibility of returning to the same place twice. The return home, to the place that shaped us and our parents into the people we are today, leads inevitably to the question: where even is home?
This film series explores diverse meanings of home and the act of returning to a place that no longer feels like a home anymore. Through a selection of documentaries, spanning various countries – from Turkey to China, from Palestine to Bangladesh – we follow the experiences of the (grand) children of immigrants traveling to their (parents’) homeland.
These journeys lead inevitably to the recent or distant history of the geographies in question, sometimes becoming a form of confrontation or memory work for the filmmakers. The intersection of the past and present, personal and collective memory can both alleviate and create tension. For this reason, these stories need to be told.
Necati Sönmez works as a film critic, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the initiator of Which Human Rights? Film Festival and one of the founders of Documentarist – Istanbul Documentary Days, which soon became the most important documentary festival in Turkey. He has served as jury member in over 30 festivals and curated documentary programmes as a guest curator. For 2021 he is a fellow at bi’bak.
In 1947, after a protracted struggle, India achieved freedom at the cost of dividing the nation in two. Thousands of people were killed in the wake of violent religious and ethnic riots and millions of people were forced to flee. The director’s parents too had to leave their ancestral home for an unknown future. More than fifty years later they are returning to their homeland in Bangladesh. Supriyo Sen documents his parent’s journey, their memories and the sense of history that arises from their personal recollections on their way back home.
Benjamin Zachariah is a historian at the University of Trier. He completed his BA from Presidency College, Calcutta, and his PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge. He published several books on modern Indian history.
Nazareth was twelve years old, Lousaper still a newborn, when the Armenian genocide was perpetrated in 1915. The film traces the paths of their solitary peregrination throughout exile; from their village of Burunkişla to Beirut, passing through Cairo, Karantina and an orphanage in Saida before meeting again, years later, around a lunch table in Lebanon where they fell in love and decided to start a family.
Chaghig Arzoumanian graduated from the University of Paris VIII holding a double master degree in film direction and valorization of film heritage. She directed several short movies and a medium feature and published a photo book that scrutinizes the history of the first mental asylum of Lebanon.
Mia Ma, France, 2015, 50 min.
In Cantonese Rice Mia Ma follows the private life of her family that immigrated from China to Paris. Her Cantonese grandmother loves the cheese of the adopted country but not the language. Her father functions as the interpreter between grandmother and granddaughter, who do not share a common language. The film investigates how a language can be lost in just one generation and the consequential effects of the language barrier on family ties and social identities. Mia Ma’s search to find her country of origin by connecting with other immigrated families does not lack in humour.
Meredith Hoffman / Sarah Kuck, Honduras / USA 2017, 17 Min.
Retornados depicts the gang violence in Honduras, which continues to spiral out of control. Three families find themselves caught between a state that cannot keep them safe and another that refuses to allow them to escape.
Mia Ma has studied philosophy and worked as a journalist before discovering her passion for documentary films at the film school Ateliers Varan in Paris. Cantonese Rice (2015) is her first documentary.
We Forgot to Return
Fatih Akın, Germany, 2001, 60 min.
In his first documentary We Forgot to Return, Fatih Akın follows his family’s history from his hometown of Hamburg back to his parents’ village in Turkey, from where they migrated to Germany as so-called “guest workers” in the 1960s. The film looks at the collective memory of migration through a personal, as well as a (trans-) national perspective.
Cana Bilir-Meier, Germany 2013, 7:30 min.
The short documentary Semra Ertan portrays the life of the poet, who was born in Turkey in 1956 and moved to join her parents in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1972. She worked as a construction draftswoman and an interpreter, while writing over 350 poems. In 1982 Semra Ertan set herself on fire in Hamburg to protest against racism in Germany.
Ebru Taşdemir, freelance journalist, studied Turkology and journalism in Berlin. Since 2015 she has been supervising the mentoring program for young journalists of the initiative Neue Deutsche Medienmacher*innen (New German Media Professionals).
Soraya, born in Brooklyn in a working class community of Palestinian refugees, discovers that her grandfather’s savings were frozen in a bank account in Jaffa when he was exiled in 1948. In order to reclaim what is hers, she fulfills her life-long dream of “returning” to Palestine. Gradually, she is confronted by the reality around her and is forced to face her own anger. She meets Emad, a young Palestinian whose ambition, contrary to hers, is to leave forever. Tired of the constraints that dictate their lives, they know that in order to be free, they must take things into their own hands, even if it’s illegal.
Attia Rajab is a civil engineer and member of Palestine Solidarity Committee Stuttgart. He was involved in the organization of the 2010 Stuttgart Conference that produced the “Stuttgart Declaration”, which rejects the negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At 26, Leyla Îmret, a Kurdish-German woman, becomes the youngest mayor in Turkey. In a record 81% landslide she is elected mayor of Cizre, a Kurdish capital city that lies in the war-torn region at Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq. It is here that Leyla was born, but after her father was killed by the Turkish military, she was sent to live in Germany at the age of five. After more than 20 years she returns home. Her goal is to heal and beautify the civil-war-torn city, which is enjoying a break in the violence. But on the eve of Turkey’s parliamentary elections in 2015, everything changes, and old memories become more real than ever.
Leyla Îmret is a Kurdish politician in Turkey. She is currently living in political asylum in Germany.