Gifts from Babylon (2018, ’24) is a brief drama about the psychological impact of illegal immigration to Europe from Africa, as viewed through the eyes of a traumatised Gambian returnee. The movie, which was filmed entirely on location in Gambia by a Dutch-Gambian crew, portrays the inner conflicts experienced by Modou (Christopher ‘Tijan’ Smith), a deported asylum seeker, when he returns to his country of birth after spending five years illegally in Europe. Suffering from intense flashbacks of his traumatic voyage, he is unable to reconnect with his friends, family and even himself, leaving him wondering what has become of him. Gifts from Babylon, a collaboration between Bas Ackermann (director), Emiel Martens (producer) and the Gambian media production company State of Mic, had its world première in 2018 at the Nederlands Film Festival in Utrecht, and has screened at over 40 film festivals across the world since. This included being selected for the competition at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles, USA, and the Black Star International Film Festival in Accra, Ghana. It has won several awards, including the Award for Best Fiction Film at the The Hague Film Awards and the Award for Best Short at the London Fragments Festival.

Gifts from Babylon is the second Dutch-Gambian co-production of Ackermann, Martens and State of Mic. Previously, they made Welcome to the Smiling Coast (2016, 72’), together, a documentary about tourism in Gambia that had its world première in 2016 at the Pan African Film Festival, subsequently screening at over fifty international film festivals and other events. The movie portrays the daily life – and the daily survival – of 15 adolescents and young adults who manage to eke out a living on the informal fringes of the Gambian tourism industry, with its eternal promise of sun, safaris and sultry sex. However, with the constant temptation of a better future just around the corner – sometimes literally – the question remains whether they should take their chances overseas or seek solace at home. Welcome to the Smiling Coast depicts the wide range of often creative strategies that the Gambian youth deploy to make a living. The documentary records their struggles, dreams and fears, while painting a humane and positive portrait of the informal economy that underlies the glitter of the African Smiling Coast.

Both movies will be attended, introduced and subsequently discussed after their screenings by Emiel Martens and Christopher ‘Tijan’ Smith. The latter is the star of Gifts from Babylon and has actually since requested asylum in the Netherlands and is currently living in an asylum seekers centre in Assen.