Migrating Narratives: Traversing the Global Migration Crisis through Documentaries and Docuseries

July 19, 2023

Lens on Exodus: How Film Reveals the Human Stakes of Global Migration


As the dust of one crisis begins to settle, another takes its place on the world stage. Migration, a topic as old as human history itself, now asserts itself with a ferocity that cannot be ignored. Our globally connected world is experiencing waves of migration on an unprecedented scale. In this article, we’ll navigate this vast topic through the medium of film, specifically documentaries and docuseries. These often overlooked pieces of cinematography hold a mirror up to the society we live in, revealing what often lies hidden in plain sight.

Migration is a story of humanity's will to survive, to seek better opportunities, to escape from the clutches of conflict, poverty, and instability. It’s a journey that transcends borders and cultures. It's a narrative that requires a deeper understanding, an understanding that can be well captured in the frames of a docudrama or a documentary. Our cultural platforms like Netflix, YouTube and GuideDoc offer countless narratives that capture the essence of this global movement. By simply choosing to watch online, audiences are granted a front-row seat to the lived realities of migrants around the world.


world map digital art


In essence, documentaries and docuseries about migration compel us to ask ourselves tough questions. Are we prepared for the future? Are our policies, societal attitudes, and infrastructures ready to accommodate these waves of change? As we dive into these films, we are not just passive observers but are invited to engage in a dialogue about our shared global future.


Here are ten influential documentaries and docuseries that tackle the issue of migration:



Vicky & Xingyu

An animated girl with black hair and entities writes her name on a blackboard

This is an intimate documentary that delves into the multifaceted journey of cultural adaptation. The film captures the unique expedition of Vicky and Xingyu Gu as they navigate the intricate dance of assimilating into a new culture while grappling with a new language. Directed and animated by a team of 15 student filmmakers, the documentary serves as a mirror reflecting the challenges, the beauty, and the nuances of their transformative journey. But this film transcends its personal narrative to echo a universal story - a testament to cultural resilience, the struggles and victories over language barriers, and the indomitable human spirit that persists amidst all odds.


Human Flow

a man and a boy carry a cart with wood through a desert

Directed by renowned artist Ai Weiwei, this sweeping documentary highlights the staggering scale of the global refugee crisis. Weiwei's lens captures the heartbreaking and humane stories of the displaced individuals caught in the chaotic swirl of migration.


The Day I Became a British Citizen

an older woman in a striped sweater

This documentary interlaces three potent storylines into a unified narrative about immigration. Starting with filmmaker Valentina Signorelli's postponed UK naturalization, it delves into the lives of those in limbo: Hedwig, a Dutch cancer survivor; Konstantin, an ex-USSR Olympic champion; and Was, a Pakistani refugee in the UK since 2011. The documentary concludes with a haunting exploration of London's deserted streets during the first lockdown, narrating the collective hopes and fears of these disparate lives.


Fire at Sea

a migrant on a boat

This poignant docu-film focuses on the European migrant crisis, particularly on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the frontline in the Mediterranean migration crisis. Is a heart-rending documentary film, casting its lens on the European migrant crisis. The epicenter of this crisis is the Italian island of Lampedusa, where the tide brings in much more than Mediterranean seawater. Serving as the frontline in this ceaseless migration upheaval, Lampedusa's tale is one of resilience, compassion, and desperate hope.



a man with black hair and beard in a black t-shirt in a boat

This is a compelling documentary that delves into the tumultuous reality of refugees stranded on Lesvos island, a consequence of the controversial 2016 pact between the European Union and Turkey. Captured through the lenses of two Pakistani refugees and the island's local fishing community, the film paints a riveting portrait of this unique transit zone, illuminating the indefinite wait for asylum and the emotional toll it takes on its temporary inhabitants.


The Good Postman

a thin man in a green cap behind an older man

This film provides a microcosmic view of the migration crisis through the story of a postman running for mayor in a Bulgarian village, with the promise of welcoming refugees. The film offers a close-up perspective of the global migration crisis, masterfully unfolding through the narrative of a charismatic postman-turned-mayoral candidate in a small Bulgarian village. His rallying call? To welcome refugees with open arms, a promise that tests the cultural and social fabric of this close-knit community.


Pursuit of Luck

a woman with curlers blows a kiss

This is an evocative documentary that follows the shared journey of eight single men, united in their relentless quest for happiness in Moscow. The film unfolds in three interwoven narratives of Hope, Faith, and Love, posing poignant questions about the strength of their belief that a woman could bring salvation, and the profound lengths a woman might go for love. The Pursuit of Luck delves into the depths of the human desire for happiness and the complexities of romantic pursuit.


I am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts

young people of different ethnicities pose together

This docudrama provides a bone-chilling expose into the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and their consequent, desperate migration to safer shores. It's an eye-opening exploration of an ethnic group's harrowing journey from persecution to asylum.



on the ground some photos and the shadow of a person

This is a striking short experimental documentary that navigates the depths of the Portuguese concept of "Saudade"—an intense state of longing bathed in profound melancholy. The film revolves around the poignant testimony of Elias, a Syrian refugee in Berlin, using his narrative as a sensitive conduit to the powerful resonance of Saudade. Progressively, viewers are transported into the lived experience of two actresses whose steps and gestures chart the inner terrain of this complex emotion. The documentary probes the profound question: How can we deeply connect with a stranger's pain through emotions or memories that aren't shared in time or space, but reverberate through a similar emotional fabric?


America’s Immigration Crisis: A Documentary

migration camp

This is a comprehensive documentary that delves into the labyrinth of America's immigration policy, shedding light on its profound impact on those seeking solace within its borders. Through personal accounts and expert analysis, this film unearths the human realities ensnared within the webs of legal and bureaucratic complexities.


The power of film lies in its ability to generate empathy and understanding. As the tide of migration continues to swell, these documentaries and docuseries offer us not just insights but a chance to reflect on our collective responsibility. The question is not whether we are prepared for the future, but rather, are we willing to shape it in a way that honors our shared humanity?


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