Filmed in Filignano, Molise, Italy. Paris and Drancy, France. Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland.
Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts and Business Scotland, Cultural Documents.
Commissioned by Cultural Documents
Sponsored by IFS World Wide

22’ HD, Colour, Sound (2015)

Valentina Bonizzi’s film Cartographers makes startling discoveries regarding the technologies necessary to locate the self within the intersecting and overlapping territories of nations, ethnicities, linguistic communities, and geography. The practice of cartography, or map making, has to do with developing a stable, that is, dependable account of a landscape in terms of both its physical aspects, such as the topography and flora, and the abstract, such as political borders. Yet when the tools typically employed to survey physical landscapes are used to attempt to pinpoint the individual, Cartographers demonstrates that they are awkward instruments for such a task.

Bonizzi uses the tool often associated with mapping terrain: aerial surveillance, her camera slowly tracing a rural patch from above the treeline. The camera makes a similar sweep of a metropolitan area also from a bird’s eye view. While lyrically lovely, the limitations of this perspective are made obvious when we as viewers are placed inside domestic settings with people Bonizzi gathered to tell their stories of being forcibly resettled during the Second World War. We sit with the filmmaker, and we look at ethnically Italian men and women who are connected through the place where Bonizzi filmed, either having lived there, having been born there, or having migrated there with their family. We see them through a lens level with their eyes, and we listen to their accounts of how they came to be declared as other than who they first understood themselves to be.

One man begins his story in French and finishes it in Italian and in that moment we begin to see him as a more complicated amalgam of ethnicity, familial experience, and the exigencies of war. In other words, he is not who he first appears to be, and he is also not where we imagined he should be. He says at one point, “I believed in the homeland.” However, they are both permeable and moving objects: a nation’s boundaries can shift, or become suddenly porous, and a person is no less subject to radical change, particularly through migration. Thus we are given the task in the film of finding these people who are clearly visible in front of our eyes.

The difficulty in locating them is made apparent when other interlocutors give accounts of being called German, or Italian, despite having no familial roots in the respective territories. They are unwilling participants in the process of uprooting and renaming, and in order to find them again, those concerned realize that what’s required is not more technologically sophisticated research techniques, but more ethnographic ones. Cartographers demonstrates that one of the key tools for historically locating and thereby comprehending individuals, particularly those who of hybrid or changed nationality, is through dialogue with the people affected. In their own words, we hear how their knowledge and sense of themselves transcend state-defined ideologies and formalized conventions.

Text by Seph Rodney