Private Project

On Exile

Short synopsis:

As a quiet meditation, "On Exile" presents us the moving testimonies of Muslim refugees from Syria and Somalia, resettled in North America. This unconventional short documentary film creates intimate psychological portraits, restores the refugees’ voices, and allows them full personal and political agency.

As the critic and journalist Steven Litt puts it, this is “a remarkably beautiful document that peels away layers of cliché and stereotypes to reveal the radiant humanity of Teixeira’s subjects, who come from countries torn by civil war or the fight against the Islamic State.”


At the intersection of art and politics, “On Exile” is a short experimental documentary film that reflects on the refugee experience, expanding on issues of migration, displacement, and otherness. 
As a quiet meditation, it develops intimate psychological portraits of Muslim refugees from Syria and Somalia, resettled in North America (Cleveland, OH). Concerned with the ethics of ethnographic encounter and representation, the film asks:
How to represent without patronizing or speaking on the behalf of others? How to generate a process of empathy and intersubjectivity?
Using interview as art practice and cinematic territory, this film aims to restore the voices and bodies of refugees, as opposed to a dominant discourse which often denies them personal and political agency. What are, after all, their stories and perspectives as immigrants? How are the new US policies impacting them?
"On Exile" reframes assumptions of home and belonging, delves into the challenges of language and translation, and reflects on the complex adjustment to another culture by those who, forcibly displaced, seek safety and a new beginning...

[This is a USA/Portugal co-production]

  • José Carlos Teixeira
  • José Carlos Teixeira
  • Karl Anderson, José Carlos Teixeira
  • Nicholas Wynia
  • Timothy Brayton
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Short, Other
  • Runtime:
    27 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    September 1, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    15,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    Arabic, English
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • The Artists Forum Festival of the Moving Image
    New York
    United States
    October 19, 2019
    East Coast Premiere
    Jury Award, Best Documentary Award
  • MNAC Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporanea - FUSO festival
    Non-competitive section
  • Eindhoven Film Festival EFF
    November 30, 2019
    Central European Premiere
  • New Filmmakers NY @ Anthology Film Archives
    New York
    United States
    October 29, 2019
    Non-competitive section / Fall 2019 series
  • ArtQuake Biennial, Museum of Kyoto
    Non-competitive / Art Biennial
  • Festival de Paranapiacaba
    São Paulo
  • The Sculpture Center
    United States
    Solo exhibition
  • London International Documentary Festival LIDF
    United Kingdom
    November 30, 2019
    UK premiere
Director Biography - José Carlos Teixeira

José Carlos Teixeira (b. Portugal) is an artist, filmmaker and researcher. His work has been shown across Europe and the USA – as well as South America, Africa, and Asia – in multiple venues such as the Hammer Museum, LACE (Los Angeles), Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena), Museum of the City of New York, Residency Unlimited, UnionDocs (NY), SPACES, MOCA (Cleveland), Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts (Princeton), Württembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart), DAZ (Berlin), 104 Cent Quatre (Paris), National Center for Contemporary Art (Moscow), M. K. Ciurlionis National Museum (Kaunas), Hélio Oiticica Art Center (Rio de Janeiro), S. P. Cultural Center (São Paulo), Oriente Foundation (Macao), Fundação EDP, Gulbenkian Foundation CAM, Carmona e Costa Foundation, Carpe Diem (Lisbon), Galeria Presença, and Soares dos Reis Museum (Porto), to name a few. Recent solo shows at MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (Lisbon), SPACES (Cleveland), and MMOCA (Madison).

Teixeira circulates his work mostly in the art world, but has also presented his films in festivals such as the Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, Currents: Santa Fe International New Media Festival, AIFVF Athens International Film and Video Festival, Silverlake Film Festival, LA Freewaves, Arthouse Asia, Respect Human Rights Film Festival, Family Film Project, Malmofestivalen, among others. His work has been selected for the media libraries of Visions du Réel and HotDocs.

He was awarded the FUSO Video Festival Jury Prize 2011, and the 2005 EDP New Artists Prize nomination, both in Lisbon. Recently, he received the Experimental Film Award at the SMHAF, in Glasgow, and the prestigious Efroymson Award/Contemporary Arts Fellowship, at the MCA in Chicago. In addition, Teixeira was an artist/filmmaker-in-residence at the Akademie Schloss Solitude (Germany), MacDowell Colony, and the Headlands Center for the Arts (USA).
He holds a Master’s degree from UCLA, and is currently professor at UW-Madison (USA).

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

As an artist and filmmaker, I have always been interested in ideas of identity, otherness, and exile, having the concept of migration permeated my practice since the beginning - departing from a reflection on my own immigrant condition. Thus, choosing to examine refugeeism more closely seemed to be a natural prolongation of my research. Through interviews with individuals and families, I aimed at investigating notions of home and belonging, the challenges of displacement, the adjustment to a new language, and assimilation to another culture. Conceptually, it made sense to film the refugees in their new houses, sheltered from violence, war and death, inhabiting different rooms and environments. The act of looking at their lives from inside seemed to be a more ethical and humble approach, in what I decided to call ‘ethnography of daily life’.

The camera work shows the subjects’ difficulty and anxiety, but also their creativity and agency as storytellers as they gesture, think, and show images on their phones. I also wanted to apply more literally the notion of displacement to the aesthetics of the film, by using the camera in active, anxious, displaced, and fragmented ways, alluding perhaps to nomadic and migratory processes (both physical and psychological). In general, my cinematography tends to incorporate dislocation as a visual element, by fragmenting the body in various landscapes: the other is both staged and found. Such filming approach derives from my interest in the idea that self and identity are not fixed, but multiple, locational and situational, subject to ongoing transformations and metamorphoses.

Although I found myself not particularly interested in identifying visually the specific place or city where these interviews were being conducted, I needed a counterpoint to the conversations and the bodies unfolding in front of the camera. Lake Erie, as one of the Great Lakes, and an essential part of Cleveland's history and identity, emerged as that counterpoint. In fact, the lake becomes a subject in itself in this essay film. As if it was the perfect interlocutor with each one of the participants, giving them, and the viewers, an opportunity for expansion and freedom when compared to the confinement of the interiors, and the enclosed ‘space’ of trauma and pain. Interspersing interviews with landscape, navigating bodies and spaces, and allowing silence to exist, I embraced documentary as form, resisting the more traditional and journalistic approach.

Lastly, the insertion into the video of the 1957 book, written by the German-Lithuanian philosopher Kazys Claude Cirtautas (an exile himself) on Postwar Europe’s displaced persons, aims at establishing a dialogue between a now and a then, a present and a past, underlining an historical and simultaneously non-temporal perspective about the psychological and sociological conditions of the refugee. Although published more than half century ago, and almost entirely forgotten, this study could well be applied to the current migration crisis. It also brings to the forefront the question of the archive, and of the book as an object/depository of knowledge.