Eighteen and Stateless

Film director Fred Kuwornu visited BYU and spoke about Italy’s immigration laws and how they related to his documentary, 18 Ius Soli.

PROVO, Utah (Jan. 18, 2017)—Fred Kuwornu was born and raised in Bologna, Italy, by a Ghanaian immigrant father and Italian mother. However, it was not until he was an adult that he learned about Italy’s immigration and citizenship laws. “In 2011 I was reading a journal in which the journalist was saying that in Italy we have more than one million kids born and raised in Italy by immigrant parents but [who] are not Italian citizens,” he said. So he set to work to create a documentary and ultimately, to change the law.

Kuwornu, an award-winning Italian documentary film director, visited BYU to discuss the inspiration behind his film 18 Ius Soli before its screening at International Cinema. It follows 18 children of first-generation immigrants to Italy. Each was born and raised in Italy, educated in Italian schools, and speaks Italian fluently. However, according to Kuwornu, “If you are born in the country and [both] your parents are not citizens, you are still a foreigner until 18 years [old]. And then you have to do an application,” which usually grants temporary visas – not full citizenship.

The concept “ius soli” means “the right of soil” and grants citizenship to all those born on a country’s soil. However, many European countries, including Italy, follow the concept of “ius sanguinis,” or “the right of blood,” granting citizenship only to those who have a parent or grandparent who is a citizen of the nation in question. Kuwornu believes it is time for that to change.

“There are a lot of things that people believe when they hear the word ‘citizenship,’” Kuwornu said, explaining that citizenship is often viewed as being granted the right to benefits. However, he explained, “The concept of citizenship was created by the Roman Empire to create . . . benefit for the community, not for the individual.” The Roman Empire created citizenship to hold together the people of their vast, diverse empire. “The word ‘rights’ came from a Latin word and means, ‘rules,’” explained Kuwornu. Citizenship, in his opinion, is “[in the] interest [of] the community, not the individual,” and its purpose is to “include people and create good citizens.”
Currently, the one million sons and daughters of immigrants living in Italy cannot attend university or work legally in the country. Most of them have never been to their parents’ home country, and cannot speak their parents’ native language, leaving them nowhere to go if they cannot get Italian citizenship. Kuwornu believes that “it is important for countries to find a way to attract the contribution of the people.” By not granting citizenship to one million of its residents, he says, Italy is missing the opportunity to have an extra one million educated people in its workforce and contributing culturally to their communities. “What happens if these [people] become citizens when then are 25, 26, 27?” he asked. “We as a state lost a lot of time in bringing them into our economy and realizing their goals and dreams.”

The film highlights those goals and dreams of young men and women who feel every bit as Italian as their Italian friends, but who cannot fully participate in their personal growth or the growth of the country. Kurownu clarified, “I didn’t produce this documentary as an artistic documentary. I simply tried to create a composition in which it was easy for me to introduce what we call the ‘second generation’ [of immigrants] to many Italians to convince them to change the law.”

When asked what advice he had for young filmmakers, Kuwornu joked, “[Take] the opportunity to learn everything–how to edit, to shoot. You will save money.” He continued to advise aspiring filmmakers to gain the wide variety of skills necessary to make a sample of their project for potential investors. He also stressed the importance of being able to write grants for money to fund the project and the importance of being able to multitask and work with others on big projects.

Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’18)

Olivia is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in International development. She covers events for the Department of French and Italian.


Photographs from 92daysofmovies.wordpress.com, Hamilton College and Geograficamente.wordpress.com