Mémoires d'immigrés: L'héritage maghrebin


Mémoires d'immigrés: L'héritage maghrebin
(1997).
   Film. Hailed as the film on immigration in France,Mémoires d'immigrés is a three-part documentary by filmmaker Yamina Benguigui, who is herself the daughter of Algerian immigrants. The film was originally made for television by Canal Plus; however, the documentary was so successful it was released theatrically, making it one of the few made-for-television films to be released in theaters. The film is of enormous historical significance, since it was one of the first films to commit France's history of immigration from former colonies to film, and the first documentary to do so.
   Mémoires d'immigrés is structured in triptych. The first part, "Les Pères" or "The Fathers," focused on the men who came to France to work, starting at the beginning of the twentieth century. The men are interviewed primarily in or near the places they worked in order to foreground the experiences of immigrants in the world of work, but also to draw attention to the industries in which immigrants have made a significant contribution. These include mining, construction, and manufacturing. The film also relies on close-ups to emphasize the personal nature of the experiences recounted, but longer shots are used to document places of work. Also interviewed are various members of the government who recount recruitment efforts and the attitudes of policy makers toward immigrants. These interviews suggest that the French government considered little but issues of demand for labor in building its immigration policy.
   The film also shows, briefly, the living conditions in which men were housed, drawing attention to the general lack of interest on the part of France in the welfare of those who came to work. Woven in among interviews is archival footage taken from earlier periods, notably the 1950s and 1960s, showing immigrants attempting to inte-grate into the larger culture.
   The second part focuses on "Les Mères" or "The Mothers" and looks at the experience of women in the history of immigration. Specifically it focuses on the "family reunification" policies that allowed men in France to reunite with their families. The women in this part are filmed largely in their homes, drawing attention both to the sphere in which they predominantly found themselves and to the commonalities that unite women of Maghrebian origin with women in France.
   The third part focuses on "Les Enfants" or "The Children" and looks at the experience of those of Maghrebian origin born and brought up in France. The section documents the banlieue and the rent controlled housing projects or HLMs in which many immigrants reside. It also recalls the bidonvilles, or shanty towns, that preceded them. This part emphasizes the stories of everyday people and also highly visible people such as the writer Mounsi, and the writer and sociologist Azouz Begag, who is the current minister of equal opportunities.
   As noted, the film has been hailed for bringing the history of immigration into the public sphere and for personalizing the experience of immigration, bringing it out of the realm of statistics and political polemic and rendering it a lived and living experience, a part of history and memory. It has been one of the most successful documentaries of all time.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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