Migrants in Calais: the power of documentary images against official discourse

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Migrants in the Calais area have been a major issue for the French government since the late 1990s. From the closure of the Sangatte Red Cross Center in 2002 to the destruction of the Jungle in 2009, the living conditions of the migrants have continued to deteriorate. Successive governments have constructed a discourse to justify their actions. The language used by officials such as Éric Besson sought to equate migrants with clandestine activities endangering the sovereignty of the State. The images that have been relayed by the mainstream media convey, for the most part, a sense of humanitarian urgency tinged with a looming peril. Although the evolution of the situation is no longer a focus of the national media, migrants are still living in the Calaisis trying to survive and to make their voices heard. Many documentary films have been made over the years about this dire situation, yet very few have attempted to open up a space for the migrants’ words without falling prey to didactics. This paper aims at examining to what extent Sylvain George’s 2011 documentary film, Qu’ils reposent en révolte (Des figures de guerres I), offers a counter-discourse on immigration to the one imposed by the government. First, I will determine how the rhetoric of images can subvert the official language that seeks to criminalize migrants. I will identify how the documentary practice in general and Sylvain George’s film in particular manage to question and undermine the powerful governmental discourse. Second, I will put George’s film in perspective with other documentary films to evaluate if it is at all possible to create new meaning on a topic that is already saturated with images and words. Finally, I will analyze some of the daunting formal choices made by George – such as the use of fragments and non-linear narrative – and address the question of viewership and distribution. Examining the interplay between language, images, and power are crucial in understanding the situation that has been developing on the northern border of France for nearly fifteen years.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - Sep 2014
EventAssociation for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France Annual Conference - Southampton, England
Duration: Sep 1 2014Sep 30 2014


ConferenceAssociation for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France Annual Conference


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