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Posted on Jun 21, 2024 in Blog, International

Book and Movie Combinations: Immigration Stories

Book and Movie Combinations: Immigration Stories

From time to time, discussion groups of which I’m a part get requests from librarians, teachers, and book club members for book-movie combos. These aren’t necessarily film adaptations of books but people interested in books and movies on the same topics. These days, a popular and timely one is immigration.

At the beginning of June, I attended an early U.S. showing of the Polish film Green Border (Zielona Granica) at the New York Polish Film Festival. The film officially opened tonight, June 21, here in New York, featuring a Q&A with the Polish director Agnieszka Holland. Holland is perhaps my favorite film director, and I featured her in the collective biography Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors, co-authored with Tanisia “Tee” Moore. Although I was unable to attend tonight’s showing — hence my decision to see the film two weeks early — I was able to see my filmmaking hero this afternoon at a Q&A following a screening of The Secret Garden as part of a retrospective organized by the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

Green Border is divided into three parts that tell the story of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and various countries of Africa who are trapped in a hybrid war between Russia and Belarus on one hand and the European Union on the other. The flashpoint is the “green border” — a portion of the ancient Białoweza Forest of Poland and Belarus. Belarusian dictator Lukashenko has funded flights to Minsk, where his troops take refugees to the border and push them into Poland. Poland, like Belarus a homogenous country where nativism has taken hold, pushes the refugees back into Belarus. Back and forth, over and over, with many of these desperate people dying along the way from accidents, starvation, or the cruel actions of border police in both countries.

Agnieszka Holland at the Museum of the Moving Image.

In the first part of Green Border, we get to know a family from Syria trying to reunite with a cousin in Sweden and an English teacher from Afghanistan force to flee for her life when the Taliban return to power. The second part introduces a border guard with a pregnant wife. She is sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, but he’s indoctrinated into the official position of the right-wing government and in any case must obey to keep the job that supports their young family in an otherwise economically depressed border town. The third part, focusing on a ragtag group of brave activists, features a psychologist who is driven to help the refugees when she makes a horrifying discovery on her property while walking her dog.

The movie drew large audiences in Poland, where some credit it with the victory of a center-left coalition that ended the longstanding right-wing, rabidly anti-immigration government. It humanizes the refugees, giving us a sense of their backstories and their dreams. Later in the film, the psychologist risks everything to help a trio of men in their late teens or early 20s from an unnamed French-speaking African nation, young men who share much with the French-Polish family that will ultimately help to hide them. In an aging Europe, they will contribute their strength, intelligence, and ambition wherever they land.

After an initial camera pan over the forest, the film is shot in black-and-white, mostly at night. (Holland is a master of filming in dark places, including inside sewers in her award-winning film from 2011 In Darkness.) The setting, music, and action combine to maintain the suspense throughout, but most of all, the characters are compelling — all of them people we care about.

The portrayal of refugees — those escaping various forms of persecution in their home countries — as people who enrich the places that offer them asylum, is at the heart of Go Home, a new young adult novel by Terry Farish and Lochan Sharma. For older teenagers, this book would make an ideal companion to the powerful Green Border. The story features high school seniors Olive, a girl who has spent her entire life in a small New Hampshire town, and Samir, who spent his early years in a refugee camp in Nepal near the border with Bhutan and has recently moved from Worcester, Massachusetts to the town to help his father start a restaurant. Olive and Samir’s paths cross on a beach where Samir is contemplating learning to swim because his grandmother drowned back home, and Olive is meeting her boyfriend, Gabe. Gabe wants the immigrants out of his community and the country. He feels that immigrants are taking resources from people born in the U.S., people like his best friend, Olive’s older brother, who died of a fentanyl overdose because he didn’t have the money for drug treatment.

After Gabe and Samir fight on the beach, attacks on Samir’s family escalate. Samir’s father and grandfather tell him not to confront Gabe and his father, but Samir has grown up in a tough camp where backing down from a fight gets one labeled a weakling. At the same time, Olive has gotten to know Samir’s family, the Paudels, because they live across the street. WIth her small family isolated in their grief, she envies the Paudels’ closeness and warmth. She starts hanging out with Samir’s nephew and grandfather, which makes her happy for the first time in a long time, but it draws her closer to a confrontation with the boyfriend she always believed she would marry.

Like Green Border, Go Home gives humanity to all of those involved in the protracted debate over immigration. Co-author Sharma is a university student whose family, like Samir’s, was forced out of Bhutan to a refugee camp in Nepal and then to the U.S. The book shows the rich culture of Bhutan and Nepal, countries about which most young people in U.S. know very little. While they’re not likely to know much about the border between Belarus and Poland either, these two immigration stories have the potential to deepen understanding and provoke discussion. They show viewers and readers that immigration isn’t confined to the southern border of the U.S. Everywhere, people are facing repression, seeking freedom, and experiencing the consequences of climate change, inequality, injustice, and war.


  1. Thanks for the fine review of Green Borders, Lyn. Fingers crossed it will soon be showing in the Seattle area.

    • Hi, Julie! Green Border should make it to theaters in your area, if you have some that regularly show international films. It will probably be on one or more streaming services as well.

  2. Wow. I’d never heard of this film. Glad you had the opportunity to see it.

    • I hope it comes your way as well, or at least is on one of the streaming services. If it’s nominated for an Academy Award (as I expect it will be), it will certainly be available.

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