Filming at the Borders: Special Flight (Vol spécial)

General Programming

October 28, 2016 Friday, 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.


Special Flight (Vol spécial)
​Fernand Melgar, 2011, 100 min.

Film screening followed by discussion with director Fernand Melgar, Professor Bernard Harcourt, and Nicolas Fischer, moderated by Nora Philippe

Genre: Documentary. Swiss Production. Language: French, with English subtitles

Each year, thousands of men and women in Switzerland are imprisoned without trial or sentence. Simply because they stay in the country illegally, they may be deprived of liberty for up to 18 months before being deported - some of them after having spent up to ten years in Switzerland, worked, paid taxes, and started a family. Those who refuse to leave are handcuffed, tied up, dressed in diapers and helmets, and forcibly put on a plane for a journey that can last for 40 hours at worst. In this extreme situation, despair has a name: “special flight.” Melgar filmed for nine months at Frambois, one of the 28 expulsion centers in Switzerland (the European Union has more than 200). Special Flight opened in Official Competition in Locarno, and garnered more than 20 awards for best film around the globe; it was also nominated to the Emmy Awards for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. Special Flight triggered such a controversy in Switzerland that immigration services had to humanize their expulsion protocols.

“Special Flight is a film that is engaged but not militant; it isn’t seeking to point fingers at brutal torturers. The situation is more complex than that, and to be faithful to reality, director Melgar films the ambiguous dealings between persecutors and victims in order to show the human face of this Western democratic form of barbarianism. Following in the tradition of direct American cinema of the 1960s, the film shows rather than tells, placing full confidence in spectators to decide for themselves.” (Le Monde)

  • Bernard E. Harcourt Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director, Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought Columbia University