Filming at the Borders: Burn the Sea (Brûle la mer)

General Programming

October 20, 2016 Thursday, 6:30pm EDT Buell Hall, Maison Française, Columbia University
  • Maison Française
  • European Institute
  • School of the Arts
  • Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought
  • Alliance Program
  • Institute for the Study of Human Rights
  • Institute of African Studies
  • Columbia Global Centers
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.


Burn the Sea (Brûle la mer)

Nathalie Nambot and Maki Berchache, 2014, 75 min.
Film screening followed by discussion with directors Nathalie Nambot and Maki Berchache and Professor Etienne Balibar, moderated by Nora Philippe

Genre: Documentary. French production. Filmed in: Tunisia, Italy, France. Languages: French, English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, with English subtitles.

Leaving Tunisia soon after the fall of the Ben Ali regime in 2011, Maki Berchache arrived in Paris and stumbled upon L'abominable, a cooperative artist-run analog film lab devoted to alternative cinema, and met with filmmaker and activist Nathalie Nambot. Brûle la mer, shot in 16mm and 8mm, uses Berchache's own experience as a starting point for a collective narrative about the harragas — North African migrants attempting to find refuge in Europe in the wake of the Arab Spring — and for a poetic reflection on freedom and emancipation: what does it mean to “burn the seam” -- and borders, and laws, and papers? Following the harragas on their journey across the Mediterranean, through Italy and into France, Nambot and Berchache interrogate the quest for a new, "better" life in the North; Nambot speaks of the film as an act of hospitality: “The film is a poetic quest which combines materiality (in the strictest sense of that which constitutes material life) and abstraction: the experience of rupture, of reversal. The images should render perceptible the connection between a country left behind and the country of dreams, and then, the reversal which slowly takes hold, in which the country of dreams becomes the country left behind.”

Burn the Sea won several awards at FIDMarseille festival, and showed at festivals in Spain, Portugal and Brazil, and was extensively shown in European universities and museums (Centre Pompidou, EHESS Paris, University of London). Its American première was held at the MoMA, New York.

  • Etienne Balibar Visiting Professor of French and Romance Philology Columbia University