Reel Borders studies how borders are imagined through film


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

26 May, 2023

Docs Ireland. We will be featured in the programme of the Docs Ireland film festival! Docs Ireland is an annual celebration of documentary filmmaking. On Sunday the 25th of June, at 12.30pm, four Reel Border Shorts will be screened at The Black Box in Belfast.You can read the full new 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. 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”. 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, organized 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 started the collaboration with  Association Digmun, where 12 border women are reflecting on their experiences while making short documentary films and discussing films about this border during 3 months. 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/Londonderry 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.

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. 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).

Participatory Filmmaking

The Irish border 

       Meet our directors

The Moroccan-Spanish border


Meet our directors

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 Gutierrez 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.


Administrative Assistance

Christel Vaeremans

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 Yüksel and Aydın Çam

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