(IN)VISIBLE CITIES is a multimedia documentary that follows the daily lives of African migrants across five continents. We spoke to producers Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua and Gianpaolo Bucci to learn more about the new project.
What is (IN)VISIBLE CITIES?
(IN)VISIBLE CITIES is a multimedia project and a documentary series focused on Sub-Saharan African migrant communities who settled in 12 different cities of the five continents. Each city is presented and represented in one episode.
How did the idea for (IN)VISIBLE CITIES come about?
Few years ago I started noticing that in some areas of the European cities migrants tended to group, and that made me very curious. On the one hand, I wanted to learn more about my own origins, on the other hand I had to understand why that phenomena was happening. So I started to take pictures and do some heavy research on the immigration laws and policies in Europe.
Last September Gianpaolo moved to London, where I was living at the time. He wanted to give a twist to his life and career and focus more on social issues and projects that would really make a difference. Through some relatives he met me and I told him about the project. He instantly felt he could be one of those migrants, having moved from the South of Italy to Rome and from there to the UK, it didn’t really matter he wasn’t African. So we decided to take the idea a step further and make a huge project out of it, that started in Cardiff with the very kind help of the Butetown History and Arts Center and then moved to Los Angeles. And those were only two of the 12 stops.
What are you roles in the production? What does Beatrice do? what do Gianpaolo do?
I mainly deals with all things journalistic: research, interviews, contacts etc. while Gianpaolo is the director of the documentary so he has to take care of lights, filming, editing and all the things related to it. Truth be told, despite the help we have received from amazing people, we are the only two working on the project: managing social networks, promoting, looking and applying for funds etc. So for the producing part the roles really mix up a bit. It is really great that we can complete each other so well!
How did you find participants for the project? Was there any specific quality that you look for in you participants?
We tried to avoid strict categories when choosing people to talk to, the only characteristic we were really looking for were people who settled in the city and not really asylum seekers or temporary migrants. We can all go to France or New York for a month or two, that doesn’t mean that we truly know or merge in the place, nor that we understand the dynamics of living there. The choice was not made to exclude more “unstable” categories but rather to focus on a smaller group that can give an insight on what is it like to be an African migrant citizen of a new country. What traditions did people bring with them? What did they leave?
Beatrice, as an Italian Congolese women, were you able to relate to any of the participants?
Indeed. Somehow this is also my own therapy, I’m meeting so many people who have experienced the same feeling of displacement I had when growing up Congolese and Italian. Luckily, the issues where never about racism when I was growing up but it was more about identity and its definition. It happened sometimes that we would go to someone’s house and I’d found the same traditions I had in my family home. When I was growing up there weren’t many Congolese in the Province of Rome, but during our trips we met so many and even mentioning a Congolese singer that everyone knew was a great joy. You know, when we are introduced to people it makes a lot of difference my African root.
Which cities have you covered so far?
We started in Cardiff in March and in May we went to Los Angeles. After two months there we decided to take a coast to coast trip via train and discover other cities in Texas, although they weren’t included in our initial research and eventually we looked further in the situation in NYC, which is really interesting! So we decided to add NYC to the list.
Are there any cities that you are stilling hoping to cover?
When we were in the US people suggested us so many more cities to explore and we’d love to visit all of them. However, it all depends on the fund we get. We’d love to go to Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, back in Texas, in Brazil and many others. Also the African internal migration is really interesting.
What has been the highlight of the project?
In terms of work, maybe the week in New York. Because it’s such a quick city lots have happened there that couldn’t have happened in LA in that time range. And that can be seen from the shooting we did. But the real highlight of the work is whenever we call back the amazing people we have met and they tell us they now have children or they thinking about us, or that we made their Mondays happier with a phone call… the human bond is what pushes and motivates us, is what makes us believe we can really promote diversity and share a culture based on “knowing the other.”
Did you encounter any problems?
Nothing ever goes smoothly. But probably so far the biggest issue has been gathering funds through national and international institutions. We sometimes had interviews rescheduled, weather against us, audio issues. But all those are minor problems we always take into account.
What is the take home message that you hope viewers will take away from this production?
One of the poet we interviewed, Hassan, really said it perfectly: the whole world is our home. Boundaries should not divide and diversity should be considered as richness, not as something you despise. It’s ok to be afraid of knowing someone who is different from you but that shouldn’t stop you from going towards them. And also, learn, learn, learn, don’t just believe the stereotypical representation easily available on the media channels, because there is another world that is not portrayed there and we want to unveil it.
You do screening every so often, how has it been received by your audience so far?
So we have been really happy about peoples responses. Experts of the field have given us some valid advice to improve, which is invaluable. But in general we have a created a debate, and that’s exactly what we wanted. This is not a documentary you can watch as an usual movie-goer, who watches it and leaves the screening room: it’s a bridge to a dialogue instead. And we created that, which we are happy to. That dialogue happened during the screenings in the US, so we are really curious to see the reaction of other audiences all over the world.
What is the status of the project? i.e. Completion time, Screening date?
We have completed the editing of a 10’ version of the Cardiff episode and it was selected to the SESIFF, the Seoul International Film Festival. So it will be screened there on September 27. Before that we are planning to organize a screening in Rome during this month but we are still in the planning phase. In the meanwhile we are also working on the US material and making contacts for our next stop: Istanbul in October. On top of that we are working on the website, the crowdfunding campaign and airlines sponsorship. Each city is an episode so after each trip we would have a 10-minute version for festival release, a 25 minute version to sell to TV channels, then articles and radio reports. To complete the 12 cities it will take us other two years or so, that is if we don’t decide to add more to the list!
How can readers learn more about (In)visible Cities?
We are very active on Facebook and that is the best way to learn about present and past activities, but we are also on Twitter (@invisible_cit), Instagram and Google+. In mid-September we will also launch the website. In alternative we can be contacted to our email address: info AT invisiblecities DOT us