Iva Radivojevic has come up with a way to explain her globe-hopping background. When she was younger, it sometimes gave her pause. “It was difficult to place yourself — to construct an identity where you feel like you belong,” says the filmmaker, who left her native Yugoslavia in 1992, when she was 12, moving first to Cyprus and, about six years later, to New York City, her current home. These days, the 34-year-old remarks, “I just say I belong everywhere.”
That sense of universal affiliation may have given her a head start on “Evaporating Borders,” her nonfiction film about Cyprus’s experience with immigration. Written and directed by Radivojevic, and executive produced by Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour,” etc.), “Evaporating Borders” debuted at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year. Following a stint on the festival circuit, it airs locally Dec. 15 as part of the AFI European Union Film Showcase, running through Dec. 21. Radivojevic will appear in conjunction with the screening.
The 73-minute-long film, in Greek, Arabic and English with English subtitles, is an idiosyncratic piece — a visually rich set of scenes and anecdotes musing on the moral, political and logistical challenges posed by immigration. Some sections implicitly ponder broader issues related to compassion, identity, xenophobia and us-them thinking.
Some sections explore the specific challenges facing Cyprus, a Mediterranean island whose population includes Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Following a 1974 invasion by Turkey, in response to a coup supported by Greece’s then-military junta government, Cyprus was divided into a Turkish-occupied north and a Greek Cypriot south (where Radivojevic lived). It remains divided. The Republic of Cyprus — the southern section — joined the European Union in 2004.
“Evaporating Borders” reports that this situation, along with the island’s geographical position, recently has made Cyprus a magnet for refugees — including many from the Middle East — often escaping war or economic hardship in their home countries. In response to this phenomenon, the film relates, anti-immigration sentiment has surged. Radivojevic says she became aware of these developments during her trips back to Cyprus to visit family.
Knit together by Radivojevic’s intermittent, quiet, Greek-language voice-over, the film includes snippets of interviews with refugees, a lawmaker, and others; it documents public rallies by an anti-immigration group, whose members appear wearing black shirts. The film also includes dramatic shots of the ocean and coast, carefully observed townscapes, and lyrical images of migratory flamingos. “I’m a filmmaker first and foremost, not an activist,” says Radivojevic, whose time in an MFA program at New York’s Hunter College brought her into contact with Poitras.
Radivojevic has acknowledged being influenced by cinematic artists such as France’s Agnes Varda and Chris Marker. “I like to talk about ideas and create points of conversation, but [“Evaporating Borders”] is not a traditional documentary,” she says. “It’s not journalistic—it’s more of a meditation.”
If “Evaporating Borders” asserts a point of view, Radivojevic was anxious to keep it from being judgmental and accusatory. Rather, she says, she wanted to invite viewers to soul-search about the fearful and intolerant thought patterns we all may find ourselves lapsing into, too readily.
“What I really wanted to do was not point fingers — at the neo-Nazis who appear in the film, or members of parliament, or whatever,” Radivojevic says. “What I wanted to do is point a finger at myself — and ourselves.”
Lighting virtuoso Luisa Alvarez is not one to put creativity on a pedestal. When it comes to the feats of brightness that she creates with the Madrid-based art collective Travesias de Luz, she says, “the interaction”— between art and viewer —“is one of the most important things.”
That’s why she chooses to work in cities, where the potential audience is large, and where an illuminated work can easily be “surprising to pedestrians, creating new atmospheres” and recalibrating environments, she noted via e-mail as she geared up for a trip to Washington.
Her goal was the creation of her new site-specific installation “The Soul of D.C,” running Dec. 12-14 as part of Georgetown GLOW, an event that includes a curated outdoor exhibition of light art. The event is organized by the Georgetown Business Improvement District.
“The Soul of D.C.” was planned as an expanded follow-up to Alvarez’s installation “Inhabited D.C.,” which was mounted as part of 2013’s Fete des Lumieres Georgetown. “Inhabited D.C.” positioned whimsical lit-up mannequins — a bike rider, a newspaper reader, a flaneur in a top hat, and more — in various locations around the historic neighborhood.
Alvarez is “so enthusiastic about Georgetown,” says Nancy Miyahira, vice president of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, which partnered with Alliance Française of Washington and other organizations on the Fete des Lumieres Georgetown (inspired by the traditional Fete des Lumieres of Lyon, France). When the BID embarked on plans for Georgetown GLOW, it was a natural move to include Alvarez once again. “A lot of people say Georgetown has this European charm and flavor to it,” Miyahira observes. “I think maybe that resonated with her.”
Asked which international works by the three-year-old Travesias de Luz are particularly notable, Alvarez mentions 2012’s “Floating Lights,” an interactive wall of soft-colored rings — like giant rubbery Life Savers candies — that visitors could turn on and off to make different patterns. That piece, mounted in Lyon, evolved into “Floating Hearts,” earlier this year, in Singapore. Alvarez, who is Travesias de Luz’s creative director, was pleased with the collective’s recent effort in Moscow: “Trap of Fireflies” was an enormous structure containing thousands of tiny insect-evoking green lights.
Alvarez says she tends to get positive feedback about such projects. “Usually people have a nice reaction when they see light works,” she says.
“Evaporating Borders,” with filmmaker Iva Radivojevic. Dec. 15 at 7:30 at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Visit www.afi.com/silver/eushowcase.
“The Soul of D.C,” part of Georgetown GLOW, Dec. 12-14. Visit www.georgetowndc.com/holiday.
Wren is a freelance writer.