First Person Migrant: Autobiographical Documentary in the Age of Migration

According to Jim Lane, who studied The Autobiographical Documentary in America, ‘the authors of autobiographical documentary typically are not public figures; they are not artists with a large body of established work that may engender wide recognition or viewership’ (2002: 4). This sub-genre has thus largely been embraced by amateurs, sometimes also by ‘artist filmmakers’. It has evolved with the New American Cinema since the late 1960s, but it has become today, in times of digital media, a worldwide phenomenon. More and more filmmakers beyond the US address their ‘selfs’ and their family stories in these ‘first-person documentaries’, often to uncover buried family secrets (e.g. Stories We Tell, 2012), but frequently also to rework ‘immigrant suffering’, hence, the often painful memories that moving from one place to another brings along. In films such as A Hungarian Passport (Kogut, 2002), Domov (Hruza, 2008) or I for India (Suri, 2007), filmmakers put either themselves or their close family members in front of their ‘personal cameras’ (Rascaroli 2009). These first-person narrated ‘home movies’ present their filmmaker’s home-coming journeys, family reunions or identity quests and so acquire performative functions, for instance as public family therapies, on-screen confessions or autobiographies.

In my presentation I will sketch the burgeoning body of film scholarship on autobiographical documentary (Lane 2002; Renov 2004; Rascaroli 2009; Lebow 2012) as well as on (accented, diasporic or intercultural) migrant cinema (Marks 2000; Naficy 2002; Demos 2013; Berghahn 2013), in order to address in the third and last part the most important features of these films to answer the question why the ‘autobiographical impulse’ (Renov) has become such a wide-spread feature of documentary practice in ‘the age of migration’.

Igor Krstić studied literature at the University of Tübingen, after which he obtained an MA in Film and TV at the University of Amsterdam with a thesis on post-Yugoslav films supervised by Prof Thomas Elsaesser. In 2013 he completed his PhD with a dissertation titled ‚Slums on Screen‘ in the graduate programme ‘Formations of the Global’ at the University of Mannheim. From 2014 to 2016 he was a DAAD-Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Reading under the supervision of Prof Lúcia Nagib.