Micael Sham Kyriakakis explores a reflective documentary called Asmarina from the Film Africa programme. 



Mr Lettenze doesn’t know his father. He was supposed to have an Italian family surname passed on to him and yet he adopted his mother’s first name as his last. Upon his arrival in Italy the officials accepted it. He is one of numerous Eritrean children born of Italian fathers who wouldn’t recognise them as theirs. What’s in a name many have asked. There must be much, seeing how a colonising country would abandon even a fundamental aspect of its identity, that of being a patriarchal society, just to accommodate practices immoral in its own land.

There was something honest about the Italian colonial endeavour: it didn’t pretend to be something else. Italian colonising veterans would see themselves as legitimate and tolerant, as long as the local population abided by their rules. Eritrea was as much a colonial effort as any other African country, experimental weapons and segregated neighbourhoods included.

Diaspora is a label one can be given or adopt, and it carries with it some notion of a person’s identity being in more than one locality. People are born and raised into a community that accepts them, they speak the language, build relationships, seek legal recognition and attain it, thrive with their families. Tumultuous times will mean business is no longer profitable for them, although their standing in society is not challenged. Their economic status changed, they arrive in Italy as “economic migrants”. They’re second generation Italians, and they will continue to enjoy their full rights in their new home.

This is not the experience of most Eritreans, which Asmarina depicts. It is a film of generations threading narratives. Although focused on the once vibrant community around Porta Venezia in Milan, it reflects the experiences of the Eritrean diaspora in general. There is a contrast in the experiences of the generations of migrants however. The family that has worked hard to pass on its identity, whilst trying to give its children the same recognition the Italians had back home, is very different from the group of young refugees whose primary concerns are feeding and sheltering themselves. They all meet to protest and mourn their fellow nationals who died whilst trying to join them.

There is contrast in how the diaspora gather around their societal issues too. A community united around a common cause gave a different vibe; the locals liked this community which seems focused, shared so many of the values of family and culture, it seems dedicated to integrate itself. The locals also wanted to depict what they were witnessing, which creates another contrast, that between how the diaspora sees itself and how the world sees it.

Asmarina is a film of images too, images imprinted on memories and passed down as narratives, a universal oral tradition of telling how things were. Alongside these are images printed from film, those the journalists took and those shared in family albums, those carried by people who risked drowning. It is a film focused on the people telling their stories, the coloniser, the ‘half-cast’, the second-generation ‘returnee’, the new migrant, the protester, the nostalgic, the culturally-shocked and adaptive and even the ambiguous ‘habesha’ identity. How much you will like it will not depend on the makers’ craft. They’ve presented it well, but what they present is real and can leave one with a smile and a bitter taste. It doesn’t present a problem, as such it doesn’t pretend to give a solution, however one can’t help see the issues and identify with the personalities on screen. The word ‘Asmarina’ carries much weight in Eritrean identity. In Italian it is a diminutive feminine term, it means ‘young girl from Asmara’. It’s the title of a romantic song. The singer Wedi Shaul made a patriotic parody and he sang ‘Asmerana’. That Tigrinya word means ‘our Asmara’ and he sang it dreaming of the day he would see his home. That too struck a romantic feeling in the hearts of Eritreans.


Buy tickets to see the London Premiere of Asmarina

Wed 2 Nov | 18:30 | Ritzy Brixton                                                  BOOK NOW

Thur 3 Nov | 19:00 | Bernie Grant Arts Centre                       BOOK NOW    

Micael Sham Kyriakakis is a blogger and film enthusiast with interests in European history and Sociology. Born in Eritrea, Micael is currently exploring short film projects with introspective themes of community. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Birkbeck University, currently studying an MA in Philosophy at Birkbeck University with a focus on Ethics and Politics.