Session 12: Sidney Sokhona – Nationality: Immigrant

Nationality: Immigrant [Nationalité: Immigré], Sidney Sokhona, France, 1976, digital [16mm], 69 minutes, French with English subtitles

Watch the film: Nationality: Immigrant can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room, alongside a recorded conversation between Sidney Sokhona, Ricardo Matos Cabo and Michael Temple. LINK HERE.

Sidney Sokhona’s Nationality: Immigrant is a powerful and persuasive essay about what it meant to be an immigrant worker in France in the 1970s. Combining caustic humour and on the street reportage with angry denunciation of the living conditions of immigrants from France’s former African colonies, Sokhona’s debut work, made when the artist was in his early twenties, remains a stunning example of politically urgent and formally inventive filmmaking at its best. 

Appearing in the film himself, Sokhona plays the lead role of a young man arriving from Mauritania as an illegal immigrant whom we follow in his attempts to find a job, a place to live, and some sense of community in the crisis-torn France of the early 1970s. His personal frustrations and travails provide the film’s storyline, but the narrative is constantly disrupted by essayistic discursions into the harsh realities of everyday racism and the constant denial of basic human rights, notably focusing on the sub-standard hostel accommodation against which the immigrant workers organise to protest at the end of the film.

As critic Sarah Cowan wrote: “Sokhona’s films subvert traditional documentary and ethnographic models, using a variety of overt explanatory devices – voice-over, radio segments, text, classroom scenes, interviews, speeches – to identify the way information is kept and deployed. His tongue-in-cheek didacticism gives the films a nuanced scepticism appropriate to the postcolonial moment, when the values of the colonizing West – freedom, equality – were glaringly absent in day-to-day life.” (‘The Right to Speak’, Paris Review, 22 February 2017)


Sarah Cowan, The Paris Review: The Right to Speak