Voice, autonomy and utopian desire in participatory film-making with young refugees

Katja Frimberger, Simon Bishopp

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This article is a reflection on what reflexive documentary scholars call the ‘moral dimension’ (Nash 2012: 318) of a participatory filmmaking project with refugee young people, who wanted to make a film to support other new young arrivals in the process of making home in Scotland. In the first part, we highlight some of the challenges of collaborating with refugee young people, in light of the often de-humanising representations of refugees in mainstream media and the danger of the triple conflation of authenticity-voice-pain in academic narratives about refugees. In the second part, we show how honouring young people’s desire to convey the hopeful aspects of making home, emerged as a key pedagogical strategy to affirm their expert position and encourage their participation in the project. Revisiting key moments of learning and interaction, we demonstrate how young people’s process of ‘finding a voice’ in moment-by-moment filmmaking practice was not a linear, developmental process towards ‘pure’ individual empowerment and singular artistic expression. Their participation in shaping their visual (self-)representation in the final film, was embedded in the dialogical process and pragmatic requirements of a collaborative film production, in which voice, autonomy and teacher authority were negotiated on a moment-by-moment basis. We conclude that it is vital for a reflexive practice and research to not gloss over the moral dilemmas in the name of progressive ideals, for example, when representations are co-created by project filmmakers/educators, but embrace these deliberations as part of the ‘fascinating collaborative matrix’ (Chambers 2019: 29) of participatory filmmaking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalFilm Education Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2020


  • situational ethics
  • participatory filmmaking
  • utopian desire
  • refugee narratives
  • documentary
  • voice
  • autonomy
  • teacher authority
  • co-creation
  • hope


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