How might film, art, and media move beyond merely acknowledging the unprecedented scale and urgency of migration and displacement and begin to generate new language through which to respond to these realities? What insights into the interior lives and experiences of migrants are film, art, and media capable of providing? How do cultural products address a more extensive range of experiences of migration and displacement, including trauma and loss, without reducing migrants to “media objects” (12)? These are a few of the concerns that circulate through this collection, which developed out of the Twentieth New Directions in Turkish Film Studies Conference: Cinema and Migration, held in Istanbul in 2019.

As part of their introduction to the collection, editors Deniz Bayrakdar and Robert Burgoyne emphasize the environment of sociopolitical tension that migrants are forced to navigate. While the authority of the nation-state purportedly continues its decline, punitive immigration policies relentlessly work to ensure the permanence of the violent logics of exclusion on which the nation-state has been built. Included in the collection, Dora Apel’s study of a selection of art exhibitions that react to migration policy underscores that it is the migrants themselves who are forced to navigate this tension.

Apel highlights the proliferation of art exhibitions as part of an effort to expand public discussions of the traumas that exclusionary immigration policies produce in the lives of migrants and refugees. As part of her intervention, Apel analyzes a series of installations that upend the reception of borders as a display of “the strength of nation state sovereignty” by instead highlighting their porosity and precarity (116). Apel emphasizes the capacity of these installations to communicate “the untenable nature of the global immigration system” as well as to promote policy changes that can support displaced peoples (124).

The essays in this collection are invested in asking the question, What types of spectators of migration do film, art, and media produce? Erik Marshall evaluates a number of limitations and possibilities in a growing corpus of virtual reality (VR) interfaces that represent refugees. Ultimately, Marshall underscores the need to harness the possibilities of VR—such as its ability to facilitate “immersive presence” and to give a degree of agency in narrative decision-making over to the participant (144). He wants to move the VR participant away from what Bimbisar Irom calls an “affordable empathy” and toward forms of “riskier empathy” (138).

Similarly invested in demanding more of spectators, Selmin Kara’s essay on El mar la mar (Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki, 2017) explores an approach to documentary filmmaking on migration that would not start and end with the image. Kara analyzes the filmmakers’ decision to mobilize experimental sound technologies that produce a relationship between image and sound that is left intentionally murky. In this way, Kara argues, the audience is challenged to navigate disorientation, and ultimately to consider the sensory possibilities of approaching the film first as a listener.

Kara’s, Marshall’s, and Nagehan Uskan’s essays challenge the one-dimensional, objectifying representations of migrants so often reproduced in news media. Their essays are not alone within the collection in taking on this endeavor. Uskan’s essay studies the work of the activist collective Kino Mosaik and specifically the production of their documentary short Natives of the New World (2018). Uskan underlines the capacity of activist media to serve as a source of “counter-information,” not only to exploitative news-media coverage, but also to the many artistic representations that produce effects of “aestheticization” and silence migrants (59). Additionally, Uskan studies how waiting for the outcome of asylum procedures, a process “lived as a state of limbo,” shapes how time is experienced in a state of displacement (53). Uskan notes, however, that “waiting is not always passivity and brings also the potential for positive change,” explaining that this period served as the Kino Mosaik collective’s moment of formation (54).

Examinations of the disjointed temporalities frequently produced through experiences of migration and displacement build throughout the collection. Eileen Rositzka examines Christian Petzold’s production of a cinematic space of displacement, where relationships between the temporalities of past, present, and future are intentionally disjointed. Rositzka suggests that the elusive film environment of Petzold’s Transit (2018)—one that contains spaces and people that disconnect from one another just as quickly as they converge—tracks the demand made on refugees to circulate through spaces and to navigate temporalities characterized by bureaucratically regulated deferral. Ultimately, Rositzka argues that the film works to “put the individual spectator in a position of transit—to feel and think through the ‘in-between’ of times and spaces” (190).

Nevena Dakovi´c’s essay also assumes the task of analyzing how filmmaking practices might chart and respond to experiences of temporal and spatial discontinuity. Among other issues, Dakovi´c examines how Serbian filmmakers work to bring attention to and reckon with experiences of internal displacement. Dakovi´c introduces the term “inner exile” to the collection in order to ask how cinema may shed light on experiences of dislocation that are lived and negotiated entirely within one’s home country (222).

Bayrakdar and Burgoyne’s introduction to the collection addresses the limits of media representations of migrants and refugees, positing that “the larger and more urgent task of framing this new historical narrative, a narrative of vast collective and individual consequence, has not yet been met” (12). While no single work is capable of indexing all the elements that this narrative continues to generate, these contributors perceptively and emphatically respond to the challenges that the editors introduce. They realize that if film, art, and media are to generate language that touches on the multifaceted and constantly shifting manners in which migration and displacement reshape the lived realities of people, then the techniques (and technologies) that these cultural products enlist must continue to evolve, pursuing mobility and experimentation. They demonstrate the need to continue to develop ways of seeing and hearing migrants and refugees, to complicate distanced and passive spectatorship, and to harness film, art, and visual media’s capacities in order to produce active, dynamic observers who not only see and listen, but also are moved to act.

The structure of the collection is intelligently varied; essays that curate a corpus of work for analysis, such as Dudley Andrew’s opening essay, mingle with those that opt for close readings of one or two works, such as Kara’s study of El mar la mar. In this way, the collection proves useful for readers new to the subject matter while exposing experienced readers to emerging scholarship at the intersection of film, media, art, and migration and refugee studies.

One of the most profound aspects of this collection is the editors’ decision to cherish recurrence: a number of the contributors share an interest in approaching temporalities of suspension and a need not only to harness empathy, but also to critique the ways in which the camera mobilizes empathy, the tension between visibility and invisibility, and even the utility of such theoretical tools as Hamid Naficy’s “accented cinema.” Points of convergence such as these, as well as the decision to incorporate speculative conclusions from each contributor, enable the collection to maintain the iterative, conversational quality of the conference environment from which many of these works initially emerged.