Paris, France

Narratives of Belonging

Manifesta and Runnymede Trust

November 11, 2009

Young people using film express identity and belonging.

copyright © Manifesta, 2008

With sculpted scenes of exotic tropical life adorning the exterior and the building’s colonial origins, the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris, could be considered a controversial (or ironic) choice for a museum dedicated to immigration.

Inside, there is nothing historic about the animated gestures and lively exchange of young adults negotiating English, French and Portuguese with the help of simultaneous translation. The discussion covers issues from urban regeneration, finding space to “hang out”, to community relations with the police and plans for the future.

The topic?   What does it mean to “belong” ?

This is the central question asked to teenagers in Paris, Lisbon and London as they embarked on a new transnational ‘tri-city’ project to learn what it means to belong to a particular place or community, using intercultural dialogue and film to document their learnings.

The Belonging Project

BELONGING invited young people to talk about what belonging and identity means to them, especially when they are managing multiple, flexible identities (e.g.daughter, Parisian, Muslim, friend, French) and “belonging” can mean attachment to more than one place (France, Portugal),

Working in small groups with creative video artists and film-makers, the participants each made short films (up to 3-min.) on diverse topics under the project title (in three languages): Belonging / Chez Nous / Pertencer.

What is unique about the project is its inter-urban perspective. It involves young film makers from three cities -youth from culturally mixed backgrounds living on the ‘the margins’ of the cities of London (Newham), Lisbon (Casal da Boba) and Paris (20th arrondissement) filming in their own cities and then coming together to share and discuss their experiences.

The resulting 43 short films provide insight into the thoughts, aspirations and cares of young urban migrants and their views on “belonging.”

What emerged was a picture of young people whose experience across all three cities was as similar as it was different. They were all exuberantly young, unequivocally Parisian, Lisboner or Londoner, and also individuals who moved fluently from one identity to another within their particular community and place.

Cross Cultural Convening

The three locations chosen for organizing the workshops were the Cité des Amandiers estate in the 20th District of Paris, the London Borough of Newham and Casal da Bobalin Lisbon. These areas have similarities in their population make-up and histories. Common features to all the three areas include:

  • “Young Neighbourhoods” or areas with a high proportion of young inhabitants. Those under 24 years of age make up 27.31% of the population in the 20th District of Paris, 41% of Newham and 49% of Casal da Bobal;
  • Historically, these areas have seen the settlement of large numbers of migrants, often to fill labour shortages. As a result, all have high proportions of ethnic minorities and migrants;
  • The areas all suffer from poor socio-economic conditions, with high unemployment rates and low educational attainment;
  • Finally, two out of the three areas (Casal da Boba and the Cité des Amandiers) have experiences significant tensions between young people and the police.

While each film addressed individual experiences, a few geographical themes did emerge. For instance, in Lisbon belonging was defined by where you live, in Paris it was defined by how you live, and in London the focus was more on personal identities.

The young people discussed important topics like migration and community, but also loneliness, being bored, and how absurd it can sometimes seem to be asked to name a country to which you belong. The common experience that emerged across cities was a sense of identity within each group that was unifying, yet locally and culturally distinct.

One of the London attendees described how meeting the other groups at the Paris workshop had helped him think about the issues in different ways: “The Portuguese and the French people welcomed us with open arms, and the language did not stand as a barrier … we found a way to communicate in other ways. It was interesting to see how their videos were different to ours. We showed how great it is to live in London, and did not really think about crime or any of the bad things… I think discovering this was the highlight of the trip, because it opened my mind to a whole new world”.

Discussions and messages from both the films and the dialogue between the young people also offer a unique opportunity to look at their perspectives through a policy lens. The films become a powerful channel for migrant voice, allowing these young people to share views on major issues and reach a wide audience of friends, institutions, policy makers as well as local community leadership.


copyright © Benedict Hilliard, 2008

The Belonging video collection and intercultural dialogue were designed to be available for the closing celebrations of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and to ensure that the voices of Europe’s youth were at the table.

The project produced views and recommendations by young people on issues such as migration, anti-racism, and community development that can be used to inform policy debates. In addition, the content generated from the project has been used to develop educational resources for the English national curriculum on anti-racism, identities, citizenship and making of new communities.

The Belonging partnership successfully combined Manifesta’s experience of devising and producing European projects addressing cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and social exclusion/inclusion, using arts/culture, film and video production – with Runnymede Trusts’ experience on racial equality policy and research.

Belonging films have been showcased on the BBC London website, shortlisted at the StrangerFestival in Amsterdam and screened at the Roundtable on the Inter-Ethnic City organised by the UN’s Alliance of Civilisations (UN AoC) at its headquarters in New York. All the films will be broadcast by RTP, the national public service television in Portugal.

Breaking news: as of November 2009, six of the Belonging films have qualified in the first stage selection of PLURAL+, the UN AoC’s international youth film competition which will announce its finalists on December 18, 2009, on International Migrants Day -we are crossing our fingers for Belonging!

Making it Work for You:

  • Explore alternative formats for bringing people together or for documenting your work. For example, the video projects encourage collaboration and learning exchange and produce a powerful channel for sharing youth voices and perspectives on major issues.
  • Have fun! Humour is an important ingredient in even the most serious discussions, especially with young people.
  • Language barriers disappear when common interests are identified and participants are engaged in a common objective or project.
  • Ensure participant voices are heard by different audiences - local community as well as mainstream audiences, institutions and policy makers.

Themes: connect

For this Good Idea contact:

Marion Vargaftig
88, Cambridge Gardens
London, UK,
W10 6HS
+44 (0) 208 892 8504

J' y suis j' y reste (I'm here to stay)