Spaces of Identity - Part 19

posted by usha on 2006/06/23 21:16

[ Spaces of Identity ]

Edmonton has a very fine independent movie theatre, the Metro cinema. Yesterday, the 30 min. film "Stranger in My Own Skin" by Shabnam Sukhdev was screened.

The film explored migrant identities in the cases of Iman Mersal and the director herself.

An Egyptian poetess who immigrated to Canada in 1998 recounts her feelings and experiences about being an immigrant. She objectively observes videos taken in Egypt before she came to Canada and revisits her identity; the film juxtaposes her life in present day Canada with her past in Egypt as she realizes that she is not only a misfit in her new found society but was also unable to fit in her country of origin. The film is an account of displaced identity not just for the poetess, but also for the director. Shabnam Sukhdev was a filmmaker in India before immigrating to Canada three years ago; with Stranger in My Own Skin, she is taking her first steps towards returning to her art.

Carefully the film told its own story, as well. A few times - most of it in the beginning - the aesthetics of homevideo was adapted. Iman Mersal saying "This does not work" and covering the lense with her hand put the audience in the vouyeuristic situation that is typical for homevideos. Nevertheless, far from being the spontaneous product of some meetings between Iman Mersal and Shabnam Sukhdev, the film did its best to put opposites into pictures. On the one hand, the small and rather "dirty" village in Egypt, on the other hand Edmonton downtown and the river valley full of joggers and cyclists.

Thus, the visual and the oral parts (Iman Mersal's beautiful poetry and her reflections on Egyptian past and Canadian present) stressed some kind of incompatibility of two cultural worlds, although Iman Mersal's story has been very personal.

I still don't know whether I liked the film. I was somehow disappointed of the beautification of Edmonton, the careful avoidance of pictures which would have been very similar to those of the Egyptian village. I didn't like that the camera was pointed towards "average Canadians" when Iman told that she had to learn the new language to differentiate between poor and wealthy people. Actually, there are no difficulties in seeing poverty everywhere around here in Edmonton. The screening of a single townhouse or sidestreet in north Edmonton, indeed a scene of highlife Whyte Avenue had been good enough to show what poverty is in Edmonton. The pride of the people and their interest in hiding poverty is probably the same in Canada and Egypt. Yet, if you meet the same people every morning in your neighborhood wearing the same clothes every day, you easily get an impression of the respective wealthiness or neediness of people. Therefore, these clothes worn with dignity don't have to be dirty or obviously worn.

So, maybe I didn't like the film that much. Of course, it is totally within a moderate postcolonial aesthetics, and it unobtrusively subverts some gender prejudices about the Muslim world. Yet, every other Edmontonian could have told a similar and maybe an even more relevant (labor) migration story.

Thus, for a change I'd recommend the Migrationsarchiv which I discoverd via Archivalia.



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