Current Issue, Identity, Migration

Do not miss “Cinema du Desert—from Mongolia to Ivory Coast” By João Meirinhos in our spring issue!

I arrived a couple of days ago from a forty-day expedition in Ivory Coast for CinemArena 2018, which was composed of twenty-six screenings and traveling over 3,000 miles around the country. We organized evenings with music, dance, debate, and movies as an awareness campaign about the dangers of illegally migrating to Europe by land or sea (and introducing local alternatives). This year, more than 2,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention those that have been abducted and are, as we speak, being tortured in Libya. The awareness campaign was supported by OIM Migration, the UN department focused on migrating issues; AICS, the Italian agency for sustainability and development; and, of course, Bambini Nel Deserto ONLUS.

Collectively, we can stop this from taking place, but concise information about it is obviously a key aspect. In this tour alone, we have spread this message to at least 15,000 people. Some pictures can be found in our official pages: ( and (

Cinéma du Désert started in 2009 with a group of young travelers wanting to cross the Sahara Desert and reach “Black Africa” by land. We wanted to see what it was all about with our own eyes—aside from the occasional media spotlights about kidnappings and/or epidemics. We also wanted to see how economical poverty felt like from the Western privileged gaze, with no research agenda whatsoever, and to mainly have an experience. In addition, we wanted to help out with little things, when possible.

People were just so nice to us wherever we’ve traveled before that the desire to give back started brewing in our minds. What’s nicer than watching a film together with a brand new group of friends from another country? It started that easygoing but ended up evolving into something very beautiful and, actually, extremely powerful. We met kids that had never seen television in their lives. Whole villages gathered—I’m talking 200, 300, to 1,500 people watching Alice in Wonderland, Kirikou, Charlie Chaplin, etc.—things we take for granted. Once, we filmed the truck going over a camera, and when we screened that clip, everybody went hysterical and ran away; it was like we once reacted to a 3D film in Europe and now react to virtual reality.

If we have access to it, it’s unfair that others don’t.

Since we had a lot of free space, we contacted Italian NGO Bambini Nel Deserto and offered to carry humanitarian aid material on their behalf to specific places in West Africa. This relationship has strengthened with the years, and many other actions have taken place. I put together a video showing what had been done by our fifth anniversary: (

So, back in 2010-2011, I ended up going with six Italians on a five-month trip to Burkina-Faso and back, around 16,000 km in total. My friends were sort of neo-nomads back then since they had already lived inside trucks for many years by then. In 2015, we adventured further by reaching Mongolia by land. That was a nine-month endeavor and around 30,000 miles. We self-funded the whole deal with the help of several crowdfunding campaigns. Here’s a personal piece from those days: ( In addition, here are two posted pictures per day for six months on the road: (

The movie that started it all is called Home; it’s open-source and available on-line. It was filmed all over the world, and it usually triggers interesting debates about ecological awareness, garbage disposal, and globalization. Many ask us for a copy afterwards or where they can see it again because it was too much info to grasp in one go. After watching it, some local farmers told us this “television” experience gave them a sense of a world they had never heard of. Some developed an awareness about pollution, the dangers of pesticide use and the complexities of the global world.  It was also that documentary that made us go solar powered; it was an embarrassing contradiction to have to go and put more diesel in the generator while showing a film that speaks so much against pollution and climate change. Now, we are energetically self-sufficient and proud of it!

Continue reading in the spring issue of Practicing Anthropology.

CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018 (3)
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018 (2)
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018 (1)
CINEMARENA Tour in Ivory Coast, 2018
The Silk Road Tour, 2015.JPG
The Silk Road Tour, 2015
Joao Headshot (1).JPG
João Meirinhos ( is an ethnographic filmmaker and researcher. He’s been working for various socially engaging organizations focusing on social justice and environmental awareness since 2007—using audiovisual tools to trigger cultural exchange and mediate dialogue between people. Since 2011, he has developed a solar powered itinerant cinema project sponsored by Italian NGO Bambini Nel Deserto. With “Cinéma du Désert,” he has had the possibility to travel and work in West Africa and Central Asia. An MA in Visual Anthropology with the University of Manchester led him to undertake fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon that culminated in the feature documentary The Mirror of the Spirit (the first part, Afluentes, was very well received in ethnographic festivals worldwide). Ever since, Meirinhos has been based between the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Lisbon as an audiovisual freelancer. 

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