Documentarian Hind Meddeb takes her camera through the streets of the French capital’s Stalingrad district and meets many of the refugees struggling to make a home for themselves there, in this eye-opening exploration of the perils and perseverance that shape the migrant experience.
Paris is among the world's top tourist destinations, known as the City of Light. But it's also a destination for refugees fleeing poverty and persecution. During the summer of 2016, filmmaker Hind Meddeb and her co-director Thim Naccache trained their cameras on an area unseen by most tourists, the community of refugees sleeping on the streets in the district named Stalingrad.
Documentaries covering migration are plentiful, but Paris Stalingrad feels distinct. The iconic backdrop pierces our consciousness in a different way than films set in remote camps. We witness a government system that's overwhelmed, lacking adequate facilities, staff, or strategy. The filmmakers capture a growing tension, as the police are called in to clear the streets and erect barriers. We get to hear from several migrants, many of them young men from embattled and impoverished African countries and from Afghanistan. We see first hand their determination, fear, hope, and resilience. Most prominent is a refugee from Darfur named Souleymane who recites poetry to keep up his spirits.
Some filmmakers take a strict observational approach, but Meddeb doesn't conceal her presence. Her own background reflects the migrant experience, as she was born in France to parents from North Africa. Her fluency in French, Arabic, and English makes her a skilled navigator. She follows other Parisians trying their best to give one-on-one assistance to an endless supply of need. The film's power deepens our empathy for refugees and how they ought to be treated anywhere in the world.