Reel Borders studies how borders are imagined through film


Here is an overview of the recent activities of the project. Click on the image for more information.

04 July, 2024

Reel Borders at IMISCOE Annual Conference. The Reel Borders team delivered a workshop at the annual conference of IMISCOE. More information here.

28 June, 2024 Reel Borders at NECS Conference. The Reel Borders team delivered two presentations at the annual conference of NECS. More information here.

20 June, 2024 Presentation at RFN Conference. Kevin Smets participated in the 2024 Radical Film Network conference in Madrid, presenting on archives in participatory filmmaking. Click here for more info.

08 May, 2024
Reel Borders at ISSS. Lennart Soberon joined the Irish Screen Studies Seminar in Belfast to present his research on Northern Irish cinema. Click here to read more on the event. 

08 May, 2024
Reel Borders at CurieuCity. Our Ceuta films were featured at CurieCity! In presence of filmmaker Irene Gutiérrez, we screened our films and gave an Q&A. Read more about the event here

16 April, 2024

Reel Borders Shorts Screening. Our participatory filmmaking short “Crossing Lines” by Margaret Gordon was part of the “Reel Lives” screening at the Nerve Centre theatre in Derry last week. Click here to find out more about the event.  

15 April, 2024

Silvia Almenara-Niebla at Euronews. Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated at another Euronews debate on the EU’s new migration and asylum pact last week. More on the 30-minute long discussion can be found here.

03 April, 2024

Reel Borders in the spotlight! 
We are proud to have our project highlighted on the CORDIS EU Research Results website: "Seeing the EU’s borders through the eyes of its migrant workers: Workshops, web documentaries and petitions – these are just some of the tools that Reel Borders is using to amplify the voices of the EU's undocumented migrant women". Read the piece, translated into six languages, here.

02 April,  2024

Blog entry.
Irene Gutiérrez has recently posted a new entry on the IMISCOE PhD blog. Her post pertains to the editorial of the 2024 Special Issue titled “How to make research more engaged: positionality, inequalities, and access”. This initiative has been taken by the IMISCOE PhD Network blog group. You can find more information by clicking here.

08 March,  2024

ABCeuta. We are proud to launch our webdoc on International Women’s Day to highlight the precarious situation of domestic workers in Ceuta. You can support them by signing our petition and reading more about the project here

27 February, 2024

Blog entry. Irene Gutiérrez has published a new entry in the IMISCOE PhD blog titled “On Participatory Filmmaking in Borderlands (II)”. Click here for more information.

16 February, 2024Book chapter. Irene Gutiérrez has published a new book chapter in Doing Digital Migration Studies: Theories and Practices of the Everyday (edited by Koen Leurs and Sandra Ponzanesi, Amsterdam University Press) titled “Archival Participatory Filmmaking in Migration and Border Studies”. Click here for more information.

5 February, 2024
Article in Emotion, Space and Society. Silvia Almenara-Niebla and Kevin Smets have published a new paper in Emotion, Space and Society based on cinematic experiences in the Irish borderlands. Click here for more information.

24-25 January, 2025II Congreso de Fronteras Ibéricas. Silvia Almenara-Niebla and Irene Gutiérrez presented their papers titled "Understanding Border Emotions through Film: Activism and Violent Ignorance at the Ceuta-Melilla Border" and "Trapped in Ceuta: Uncovering the Coloniality-Immobility Nexus through Participatory Filmmaking" at the II Congress of Iberian Borders at the University Complutense of Madrid. Click here for more information.

21 November, 2023

Agents of Concern opens.
Last week, the exhibition at PXL Mad opened, featuring our Reel Borders shorts! You can find out more here.

17 November, 2023

Silvia Almenara presented the paper “Mediating Emotions in Migration Research” at the AAA/CASCA Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada. More information here.

02 November, 2023
Reel Borders at Agents of Concern. Featuring a diverse set of international artists and scholars, the exhibition explores how images spark engagement, empathy, and action. You can find out more here.

25 October, 2023

Reel Borders Shorts at Clones. We are proud to announce that our Reelborders shorts created during the will be screened at Clones Film Festival on Sat 28 Oct @ 12 pm. You can find out more here. 

19 October
Academic article. Irene Gutiérrez has contributed an article to the journal Migration Studies. Drawing on three months of ethnographic and participatory filmmaking research on the Moroccan-Spanish border, she focuses on the need for a reflexive approach to this methodology as a site for decolonial thinking when applied to migration and border studies. Read more here.

12 October, 2023

Presentation at European Parliament. The team presented short films and participated in a discussion on labour, gender and mobility alongside members of the parliament and policy experts. More information here.

12 October, 2023

Hazar Deniz Eker joins the Reel Borders team. Joining as a PhD student, he will focus within the project on how visual media reflect and interact with socio-cultural bordering practises and political dynamics in the Turkish-Syrian border region. You can find the entire team here.

3 October, 2023
Participatory filmmaking workshop in Adana. Irene Gutiérrez started the collaboration with Özgür Sinematek with 25 Turkish students from the Faculty of Media and Communication at Çukurova University. The workshop’s main aim is to promote dialogue between Turkish and Syrian students on campus and Syrian displaced people living in Adana since 2014. More info here.

Conference participation. Reel Borders was represented at the kick-off conference of the new SOLROUTES project. More information here.

22 September, 2023

Film screening.
The Irish Film Institute has included the four Reel Borders shorts created by nine filmmakers during the participatory filmmaking workshop set at the Nerve Centre in Derry in the Culture Night 2023 programme. More information here.

21 September, 2023

Film screening. The Nerve Centre has programmed a special film screening with seven Reel Borders shorts from the participatory filmmaking workshops in Ireland and Ceuta. More information here.

11 September, 2023

Silvia Almenara and Irene Gutiérrez presented the paper “Using Audiovisual Methods in Borderlands: Empirical, ethical and methodological dilemmas” at the International Creative Research Methods Conference. More information here.

24 August, 2023

Film screening. Reel Borders was invited to present a special pre-conference screening at the EFACIS conference at Queen’s University Belfast. More information here.

16 August, 2023

Book chapter. Lennart Soberon and Kevin Smets contributed a chapter to the new book “Creating Europe from the margins”, focusing on border securitization in popular media like reality TV. Read more here

5 July, 2023

IMISCOE annual conference. How Participatory Filmmaking interacts with existing power relations and roles? Irene Gutiérrez presented the paper 'Self-representational Participatory Filmmaking in Ceuta: Reflexivity as a Plea for Border Women Encounters' at the IMISCOE annual conference panel on methods, methodologies and reflexivity. To read more, click here.

26 June, 2023

Docs Ireland. Our four shorts resulting from our participatory filmmaking workshop in the Nerve Centre, Derry, will be featured in the Docs Ireland film festival programme. On Sunday, the 25th of June, at 12.30 pm at The Black Box in Belfast. You can read the complete new here.

24 June, 2023

Euronews. Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated in the TV programme “Bruselas, ¿te quiero? to debate on the EU migration and asylum pact. More info here.

23 June, 2023

Migration and Societal Change. Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated in the panel Digital theories and methodologies from the South(s) at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. More info here.

3 May, 2023

Difference Day. Our team members Irene Gutiérrez and Kevin Smets discussed with journalist and filmmaker Sara Creta about the importance of citizens’ voices to contest European bordering practices. You can read the full new here.

25 April, 2023

Migration Podcast. Kevin Smets was interviewed for the podcast series of IMISCOE, the International Migration Research Network. You can listen to the podcast here.

13 March, 2023

Belgian-Irish Film Festival. The Reel Borders team is proud to have contributed to the next edition of Scéal Eile: The Belgian-Irish Film Festival with the four films created during our participatory filmmaking workshop at the Nerve Centre in Derry. More info here.

6 March, 2023

UCL Research seminar. Kevin Smets gave a talk as part of the UCL Anthropology research seminar “Material, Visual and Digital Culture” at the UCL. More info here.

11 February, 2023

Turkey-Syria earthquake. The Reel Borders team expresses its solidarity with the Turkish-Syrian region hit by the earthquake of 6 February. We share a letter of our project partner from Adana. Read more here.

13 January, 2023

BIRMM Research Day. Irene Gutiérrez participated in the panel on “Migration and its experiences” at BIRMM, VUB. More info here.

2 December, 2022

Guest Lecture. Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated as guest-lecture in a seminar for Anthropology undergraduate students at the University of Granada, Spain. More info here.

25 November, 2022

“Triang Times” rough cut screening. Emer, Manus and Michael, three of the filmmakers of the Reel Borders workshop at Nerve Centre, organised a screening of their short film for a local audience at the Allingham Festival of Ballyshannon. More information here

22 November, 2022

The Marrakech International Film Festival. Lennart Soberon attended the MIFF as part of his fieldwork in Morrocco. More info here

21 November, 2022

Reel Borders on Spanish national TV. The voice of some of the participants of the filmmaking workshop in Ceuta was raised on RTVE, where they talked about their short films as a site for visualizing their unstable situation, lasting for decades despite living and working in Ceuta. More info here.

17 November, 2022

Migratlantes 2022 II Encuentro de Migraciones Atlánticas. Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated as guest-speaker in the conference hosted by the Canary Islands’ Government (Spain). More info here.

08 November, 2022

Reel Borders covered by RTVCE. The launch of the participatory filmmaking workshop in Ceuta was covered by the public TV channel RTVCE. More info here.

03 November, 2022

Participatory filmmaking workshop and cineforum in Ceuta. Irene Gutiérrez and Silvia Almenara-Niebla are collaborating with the Association Digmun in Ceuta to conduct a participatory filmmaking workshop and cineforum. The workshop will last for three months and involve 13 Moroccan women, who will be making short documentary films while reflecting on their experiences of forced immobility after the COVID-19 pandemic border reinforcement. Additionally, the women will be discussing films related to this topic. More info here.

27 October, 2022

Book panel at Cinematek. Kevin Smets discussed his book at the Royal Belgian Film Archive together with Dorothée van den Berghe and Sahim Omar Kalifa. More info here.

21 October, 2022

9th ECREA Conference. Kevin Smets and Silvia Almenara-Niebla participated in the conference hosted by Aarhus University. More info here.

13 October, 2022 

Book launch at Film Fest Gent. Kevin Smets launched his book at a ‘Talkie’ during Film Fest Gent. More info here.

21 September, 2022

CESSMIR Conference. Lennart Soberon participated in the conference hosted by Ghent University. More info here.

16 August, 2022

International Migration. Silvia Almenara-Niebla has published a book review of Visual Methodology in Migration Studies. More info here.

1 August, 2022

L’Atalante Revista de Estudios Cinematográficos published “Archives-In-The-Making, Vulnerable Communities and Migration”. The Reel Borders team participates in a discussion as part of the (Dis)Agreements section of the journal. More info here.

5 July, 2022

Antwerp Summer University “Europe: Diversity and Migration”.  Irene Gutiérrez gave a guest lecture about migrants self-representation in Europe. More info here.

5 July, 2022

HoMER Network. Silvia Almenara-Niebla and Kevin Smets were part of the conference hosted by Sapienza University of Rome. More info here.

30 June, 2022

IMISCOE annual conference 2022. Irene Gutiérrez presented the paper “Methodological and Ethical Challenges in Doing Participatory Filmmaking among migrants”. More info here.

16 June, 2022


Irish Border Narratives. Lennart Soberon was part of the conference organized by University of Wuppertal. More info here.

2 June, 2022

Film, Migration & the Archive. Irene Gutiérrez and Kevin Smets were part of the conference organized by the ECREA Film Studies section. More info here.

30 May, 2022

International Communication Association. Lennart Soberon and Kevin Smets presented a paper at the annual ICA conference. The paper was one of the four finalists for the Top Paper Award. More info here.

6 May, 2022

Irish Screen Studies Seminar. Lennart Soberon participated with a presentation on a thematic analysis of the Irish Border on Screen. More info here.

5 May, 2022

Methodology workshop. Kevin Smets led a workshop on visual and participatory research methods in migration research. More info here.

April 9- June 11, 2022

Participatory Filmmaking. For nine weeks our team member Irene Gutiérrez will be in Derry doing a participatory filmmaking workshop with people living in the area thanks to the collaboration of Nerve Centre, the Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Archive and the Irish Film Archive. More info and registrations here.

8 April, 2022

Blog entry. Irene Gutiérrez has published a new entry in the IMISCOE PhD blog titled “On Participatory Filmmaking in Borderlands (I)”. Click here for more information.

November 29- March 28, 2021-2022

Reel Borders Workshops. To finalise our first project year we have set up three workshops on theoretical, methodological and ethical aspects of the different sub-studies of Reel Borders. During these workshops key academic experts set around the table with the project team to reflect on these aspects and to prepare the forthcoming empirical work. More info here.

February 11, 2022

Etmaal Conference. On 11 February our team presented papers on "Borderscaping through audiovisual participatory methods" as well as on "Borderveillant spectatorship" at Etmaal Conference 2022,  the conference bringing together Dutch and Belgian communication scholars across all fields.

January 26, 2022

Border talk. On 26 January our member team Irene Gutiérrez talked about the link between borders and cinema at the online event "Borders - Borders and Border Regions in Contemporary Art Production and Art Theory" at the Technical University of Darmstadt.  

November 1-10, 2021

Fieldwork. For the past 10 days the reel Borders team was in Ireland and Northern Ireland doing archival research, interviews, and meetings with project partners… and enjoying the Belfast Film Festival.

October 12, 2021

Mindblowers. Reel Borders researcher and filmmaker Irene Gutiérrez took part in the recent edition of Mindblowers, an event organized by KVS (Royal Flemish Theatre) and VUB.

October 7, 2021

Diaspora, Migration and Media. Reel Borders welcomes the election of the project's postdoctoral researcher, Silvia Almenara-Niebla, as vice-chair of ECREA's Diaspora, Migration and the Media section.

July 6, 2021

Advisory board. Reel Borders presents its advisory committee that will guide the team's researchers in areas such as border studies, film and migration, as well as the project's case studies.

June 17, 2021

Workshop. Irene Gutiérrez, PhD candidate on Reel Borders’ project, has participated in the 18th NECS Graduate Workshop with her paper on methodological and ethical challenges in the research of the video footage recorded by undocumented African migrants at the Moroccan-Spanish border.

May 17, 2021

Guest lecture. Migration: a media and cultural studies perspective. Part of the Honors Program ‘The societal challenge of migration’ at Tilburg University.

April 29, 2021

Lecture. Migration and visual cultures: methodological reflections and strategies as part of the NECS (Network for Cinema and Media Studies) lecture series on media and migration.

April 29, 2021

 Guest lecture. Europe and its borders: Between national sovereignty and (im)mobility policies. The cases of Ceuta and Melilla. For the master course ‘Media, Culture & Globalization Theories’ at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

April 21, 2021

Screening + Presentation. Screening of Bab Sebta (2019) by Randa Maroufi and presentation of the project Reel Borders at the Migrant Belongings Conference (Utrecht University).

Reel Borders relies on Participatory Filmmaking as one of its methodologies, led by Irene Gutiérrez. Participatory Filmmaking (PF) or Participatory Video (PV) belongs to the broader classification of participatory visual arts methods. Founded in pioneer experiences of citizen engagement through cinema, such as the Film-Eye movement in the 1920s or the Fogo Process in the 1960s, it is a set of methods involving a group or community in shaping and creating their own films.

Our empirical research draws on three PF workshops set on the Irish border, the Ceuta exclave at the Moroccan-Spanish border, and the Turkish city of Adana. It is focused on exploring the ethical and methodological challenges of PF to develop this methodology in border and migration research.

The Irish border

What is the Irish border to its inhabitants? A checkpoint? A marker of identity? A memory? In cooperation with the Nerve Centre in Derry, we have commissioned a three-month participatory filmmaking workshop (April-June 2022) in which nine border-dwellers from Donegal and Derry explore their personal stories. Some have used amateur archival collections filmed in these areas provided by the Irish Film Institute Archive and the Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive. From essayistic forms to documentary film portraits and cinema verité, their four films seek to explore these questions.

To know more about the filmmakers: here.

The Moroccan-Spanish border

Twenty-six short essay films result from a three-month participatory filmmaking workshop in Ceuta (October-December 2022) with 13 Moroccan cross-border women. They work irregularly in the domestic service and represent 800 women in the same situation. Their films address personal testimonies to the difficulties they experience in regularising their situation after years, and even decades, of low-paid labour and a poignant lack of legal rights,  access to public health care or education. The workshop was hosted by the local NGO Digmun, the Association for the Dignity of Women and Children of Ceuta, which offers language literacy and legal support. All films are compiled into the webdoc “ABCeuta: the Alphabet of the Border”. 

To visit the webdoc and watch the films: here.

The Turkish-Syrian border

The one-month workshop in Adana was hosted by the cultural association Özgür Sinematek and involved 25 Turkish students from the Faculty of Media and Communication at Çukurova University. It aimed to promote dialogue between Turkish and Syrian students on campus and Syrian displaced people living in Adana since 2014, usually separated due to existing language barriers. The workshop sessions highlighted the economic and cultural challenges of integrating Syrian communities in Turkey due to everyday bordering and racism. The four resulting films, three short documentaries and one fiction, capture these experiences, as well as the consequences of the Earthquake of 6 February 2023 and the loss of memories for displaced Syrian families due to the war. The shorts will be finished in 2024. Stay tunned! 


A list of academic publications by our team members. More publications coming soon! For the collection of Reel Borders short films, go to our pages on participatory filmmaking  and the webdoc ABCeuta.


  • Kinotopias. Film, place, and belonging in a bordered world. Forthcoming, by Kevin Smets, Lennart Soberon, Irene Gutiérrez Torres & Silvia Almenara-Niebla. To be published in the Political Cinemas’ series, Edinburgh University Press.


Book chapters


Other Publications 

Reel Borders is a 5-year research project focusing on the relations between film and borders. It studies how for the past 120 years film has been used to imagine borders in diverse ways. Acknowledging that borders are more than territorial lines or infrastructures, the project also considers questions of belonging, identity and imagination.

Reel Borders approaches this topic through different societal actors such as governmental institutions, artists and activists, asking how they use film to construct, contest or experience the border. The often blurred boundaries between fiction and non-fiction film are a fruitful starting point to explore these questions.

Reel Borders concentrates on 3 borderlands and regions: the Irish border, the Spanish-Moroccan border and its Ceuta and Melilla exclaves, and the Turkish-Syrian border. Methodologically, the project combines film analysis, expert interviews, production analysis and participatory filmmaking.

Below you find further information about the case studies in each map. More information about methodology will be added as the project progresses.

Reel Borders received funding from the European Research Council, Starting Grant (#948278, 2021-2026) and is based at the Communication Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

The team

Kevin Smets

Principal investigator

Kevin Smets is associate professor at the Department of Communication Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). He is the coordinator and principal investigator of Reel Borders. More info.

Irene Gutiérrez

PhD researcher

Irene Gutiérrez is a PhD fellow and award-winning documentary filmmaker from Ceuta. In the Reel Borders project, she will focus on vernacular border cinema. More info.

Former Affiliates

Yazan Badran

Postdoctoral researcher

Yazan Badran holds a PhD in media and communication studies. He contributed to data collection and analysis in the Reel Borders project. More info.

Silvia Almenara Niebla

Postdoctoral researcher

Silvia Almenara Niebla holds a PhD in gender and migration studies.  In the Reel Borders project, she will concentrate on everyday cinematic experiences of borderlanders, as well as social and political dynamics of borders. More info.

Lennart Soberon 

Postdoctoral researcher

Lennart Soberon holds a PhD in film studies. In the Reel Borders project, he will concentrate on film analysis and data, as well as institutional and audience dynamics. More info.


Hazar Deniz Eker

PhD researcher

Hazar Deniz Eker will focus on how visual media reflect and interact with socio-cultural bordering practises and political dynamics in the Turkish-Syrian border region. More info.

Administrative support

Christel Vaeremans (VUB Department of Communication Studies)

Research interns

Hannah Wilmots 
Hazar Deniz Eker

Fieldwork partners

University of Granada (Ceuta and Melilla campus): Antonia Olmos Alcaraz
Queen’s University Belfast: Katy Hayward

Çukurova University Adana: İlke Şanlıer, Aydın Çam, Kıvanç Türkgeldi, Aslı Ilgıt & Özge Nilay Erbalaban Gürbüz


Djager al-Yussef, Sara Albert Salmerón, Camillo Azua Contreras, Diana Cheung, Melodía Gallardo, Sally Hllouby, Michael Lynch, Joanna Maguire-Charlat, Gülin Ören, Niall David Plumb, Lola Valdés, Louise Van Nerum, Tuna Mıstıkoğlu, Emre Atakan Oruç, Melis Gurses and Tulya Su Güven.

Advisory Committee

Ramazan Aras (Ibn Haldun University); Jamal Bahmad (Mohamed V University Rabat); Ruth Barton (Trinity College Dublin); Chokri Ben Chikha (KASK School of Arts); Josetxo Cerdán Los Arcos (University Carlos III of Madrid & Filmoteca Española); Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway University of London); Lindiwe Dovey (SOAS University of London); Xavier Ferrer-Gallardo (Pompeu Fabra University); Camilla Fojas (University of Virginia); Myria Georgiou (London School of Economics); Yasmin Ibrahim (Queen Mary University London); Jelena Jureša (KASK School of Arts); Suncem Koçer (Kadir Has University); Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna); Cathal McCall (Queen’s University Belfast); Sandra Ponzanesi (Utrecht University); Johan Schimanski (University of Oslo); Belinda Smaill (Monash University); Nick Vaughan-Williams (University of Warwick)

© Profile pictures by Thierry Geenen

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Funded by the European Research Council.
Starting Grant #948278

The Reel Borders logo is designed by Joris Bochman
The Reel Borders website was built by Irene Gutiérrez and Silvia Almenara-Niebla