‘The Immigrant’ tells story of Guinean writer-director’s Libyan inferno

Left: a scene from the film "The Immigrant", written and directed by Mamadou Baillo Bah. Right: a screening of the film in Dinguiraye in August 2019.
Left: a scene from the film "The Immigrant", written and directed by Mamadou Baillo Bah. Right: a screening of the film in Dinguiraye in August 2019.

The short film "The Immigrant" ("L'immigrant" in the French original) is based on the story of its writer and director, Mamadou Baillo Bah, who left Guinea in 2017, bound for Europe. Instead of the opportunities he had hoped for, Bah found himself imprisoned in Libya for several months, where he was tortured. Finally, in early 2018, he was repatriated to Guinea. He says he wants his film to help raise awareness amongst young people about the dangers of this migration route.

For the time being, only the trailer is online, but the France 24 Observers team had the opportunity to watch the full, 40-minute film.

Trailer for the film "The Immigrant."

"Mohamed, you are travelling, too? I’m so happy to be in the same group as you,” he says to one of the young men.

Soon after, armed smugglers force the young men to sit on the ground. Then, they have the young men climb into the back of a pick-up.

Suddenly, the armed smugglers execute one of the young men in front of everyone.

This screengrab shows the first scene in the film, when the smugglers make the young migrants strip.

The next scene goes back in time, showing the main character three months earlier when he started thinking about migrating to Europe.

His father was pressuring him to leave, by making comments such as, “All of your friends are in Europe and you’re stuck here.” The main character also meets a smuggler, who is played by writer and director Bah. The father eventually decides to sell off some family land to pay the smuggler, who asks for 20 million Guinean francs (equivalent to about €2,000).

Some people do try to dissuade the father and son. One says it is better to go to Europe with the right papers, while another says that it is better to invest in Guinea rather than waste money trying to reach Europe. Besides, “It’s not all rosy there anyway.”

During this scene, the main character speaks to a smuggler, played by writer and director Mamadou Baillo Bah (screengrab).

The main character’s father sells family land to pay for his son’s journey to Europe (screengrab).


"The dialogue is based on real-life conversations I had"

Bah made his film in his hometown of Dinguiraye, which is located 500 kilometres northeast of the Guinean capital Conakry, in the region of Faranah. He told the France 24 Observers about how the project came about.

I suffered immensely when I was outside of Guinea, so I wanted to make a film that would raise awareness about the dangers of illegal migration.

I started working on this project in August 2018 [editor’s note: About eight months after Bah returned to Guinea]. I started by writing the dialogue, which is based on real-life conversations that I had.

For example, the scene with the pick-up is very similar to my own experience. I didn’t see anyone killed at that point, but I added that into my movie because there are a lot of deaths along the migration route. Some of my friends, who have never attempted to get to Europe, also contributed their ideas. For example, they came up with the idea of the father making comments about how all of his son’s friends are in Europe. That’s quite a common situation for people here; it could have happened to any of them.

The actors rehearse.

The actors rehearse.


My cousin is a photographer [editor’s note: Tibou Ly]. After attending a few of our rehearsals, he agreed to film for free.

All the filming took place in Dinguiraye in December 2018. The local prefecture gave us about €50 in support and we got about the same amount from someone who works with Unicef.

On set in Dinguiraye, December 2018.

On set in Dinguiraye, December 2018.

The film's poster.


My cousin and I edited the film in late March 2019.

In August, we had two screenings for our film in Dinguiraye. About 500 people, including local authorities, attended the first screening at a youth center. We held a second screening for about a dozen people at the offices of the Red Cross. A few people from the International Organization for Migration [editor’s note: the UN migration agency, IOM] attended. We were encouraged by all of the applause! A few people recommended that we screen the film across the country. However, some criticised us for not being professional actors.

This poster advertises the screening of the film at a youth club in Dinguiraye in August.

The youth club screening.

Screening of the film at a Red Cross office in August.


"I want to show that this way of migrating isn’t the solution"

I’d like to film more episodes showing what happens at other points in the migration journey. I’d like to show the reality of the desert and the Mediterranean crossing, with all the boats that capsize. I’d like to show life in Europe for people who made it and also life in Africa, for those who returned.

For example, I’ve thought of a scene where the main character returns to his village and realizes that his famliy has been in a terrible situation since they sold their land to finance his journey.

By exploring these different parts of the journey, I want to show that this way of migrating isn’t the solution. It is better to stay at home and work and develop your own project.

But, for the time being, we don’t have the resources to do this. We’ve requested funds from the IOM. They asked us to draw up a budget, so we’ll see.

Bah carries out tests with a green screen. He’s trying to figure out if he could add a desert backdrop to shoot scenes about that part of the migration journey.

Bah left his country in May 2017. He travelled through Mali and then Algeria. He spent about three months in Algeria's capital, working in construction. Then, he travelled to Libya. There, he was imprisoned in several different camps, some run by smugglers and others run by the Libyan government. While in these camps, he was tortured. He lived in terrible conditions, suffered from a lack of food and was forced to work. He was eventually transferred to Tariq Al-Matar camp, where he learned that the IOM was going to repatriate him back to Guinea. He finally returned to his home country on January 25, 2018.

Bah was repatriated back to Guinea on January 25, 2018.

This map shows Mamadou Baillo Bah’s journey between May 2017 and January 2018. The red line indicates his journey north by road. The green line indicates his return journey, by plane.


Article by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).