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Global Visions
Lands of Promise: The Refugee Experience in Cinema

This series of films that touch on the experiences of refugees both here and abroad is presented in collaboration with the American Repertory Theatre. Taking its inspiration from Peter Sellars’s current A.R.T. production of Eurypides’ The Children of Herakles—a work that follows the plight of the legendary hero’s children as they are forced into exile following the death of their father—the series features films that explore a range of contemporary cultural and political experiences, both at borders and within the often less than secure confines of a nation.

Free admission with the presentation of a ticket or ticket stub from the A.R.T. production of The Children of Herakles.

January 15 (Wednesday) 7 pm


Directed by Robert M. Young
US 1978, 35mm, color, 110 min.
With Domingo Ambriz, Trinidad Silva, Edward James Olmos
English and Spanish with English subtitles

The first solo feature by one of America’s foremost independent filmmakers, Alambrista! was groundbreaking for its portrayal of the harsh realities of Chicano life. After the birth of his first child, a young Mexican man slips across the border into the United States in search of the American dream. Seeking work to support his impoverished family back home, he finds only heartbreak and exploitation instead of opportunity. The aesthetic developed over three decades of Young’s documentary filmmaking finds its way into this poignant drama in the form of powerful handheld camerawork and a dynamic visual style. Alambrista! won numerous awards, including the prestigious Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. We are pleased to present this recently restored director’s cut of the film, which includes a new score and new ending. 

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January 10 (Friday) 9 pm
January 14 (Tuesday) 9:30 pm

The Promise (La Promesse)

Directed Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Belgium 1997, 35mm, color, 93 min.
Jeremie Renier, Olivier Gourmet
French with English subtitles

This critically acclaimed study of the culture of illegal immigration in Europe is told through the story of a boy’s eventual ascendance to grace in the face of his father’s cruel and illicit traffic in undocumented workers. For exorbitant fees, Roger smuggles illegal immigrants into Belgium, forges false work permits for them, and sets them up in overpriced slum apartments. Many also work at Roger's construction site, where they are paid a pittance for hard, occasionally dangerous work. The father succeeds at passing on his dehumanizing attitudes to his son just until a construction-site accident brings the boy face to face with the dying wishes of a West African worker. His promise to care for the immigrant’s wife and child creates a moral struggle that pits him against his father and causes him to reevaluate the accepted practices of an exploitative human trade.

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January 11 (Saturday) 7 pm
January 15 (Wednesday) 9 pm


Directed by Abolfazl Jalili
Iran 2001, 35mm, color, 96 min.
With Kaim Alizadeh, Rahmatollah Ebrahimi, Hossein Hashemian
Farsi with English subtitles

In the Iranian border town of Delbaran, a fourteen-year-old Afghan refugee lives with an Iranian couple, helping them run their roadside tavern—a regular stop for a colorful assortment of truck drivers, merchants, and opium smokers. Kaim is the agent through which we see the world of illegal Afghan laborers, the Iranian police who hunt them down, and adults who take desperate measures to survive in this dangerous landscape. The barren, red-toned beauty of the surrounding desert, a succession of broken-down vehicles, the sounds of automatic weapons from the nearby civil war, and the recurring image of a young boy running are the elements that form the backdrop to this spare study of the rigors of political exile, painted in rapid brush strokes. Abolfazl Jalili, Iran’s poet of social realism, was trained as a painter and calligrapher before turning to cinema: here, as he sketches the repetitive minutiae of daily life, a wry and unexpected humor emerges and moments of human decency break through the harshest of circumstances.

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January 11 (Saturday) 9 pm
January 12 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Journey to the Sun (Günese yolculuk)

Directed by Yesim Ustaoglu
Turkey/Netherlands/Germany 1999, 35mm, color, 104 min.
With Nazimi Oirix, Newroz Baz
Turkish and Kurdish with English subtitles

In this political coming-of-age story set in Istanbul, director Yesim Ustaoglu bravely examines the persecution of Kurdish refugees in the region. A young Turkish man newly migrated from the village to the city takes a job that requires him to search for water leaks below the surface of the streets—an apt metaphor for the deterioration of justice within the urban milieu. Due to a strange turn of events, he is mistaken for a Kurd, imprisoned, and brutally punished. Upon his release he becomes an outcast of society, losing his job, his apartment, and his girlfriend. Ustaoglu employs both a realist documentary style to capture life in the city as well as a more contemplative approach in filming the picturesque landscapes outside its borders.

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January 12 (Sunday) 9 pm
January 14 (Tuesday) 7 pm

El Norte

Directed by Gregory Nava
US 1983, 35mm, color, 140 min.
With Ernesto Gomez Cruz, David Villalpando, Zaide Silvia Gutierez
English and Spanish with English subtitles

Gregory Nava’s account of political oppression in Guatemala and the challenges of new immigrant labor in the United States was one of the first great successes in the burgeoning American independent film scene of the early 1980s. After their father is brutally massacred along with a party of laborers by the military, a brother and sister plot to escape their troubled homeland with the hope of finding prosperity across the U.S. border. Along the way, they face grueling adversity—both in their efforts to make it safely to Los Angeles and in the world of work as servants they discover after resettling there. Nava and co-writer Ann Thomas’s work owes a clear debt to the politics of the 1960s as it fashions a compassionate narrative of the contemporary experience of illegal immigration.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700