The Middle Passage

Institute History

  • 2001 Sundance Film Festival


If the Atlantic were to dry up, it would reveal a scattered pathway of human bones, African bones marking the various routes of the Middle Passage.—Tom Feelings

At once devastating and breathtakingly beautiful, The Middle Passage, is one of the most powerful and insightful films to date on the transatlantic slave trade, a phenomenon during which 250 million Africans died or were deported to the Americas. An extraordinary historical contribution, The Middle Passage breathes illuminating emotional detail into a horrifying and dehumanizing experience that remains an essential part of the cultural heritage of American peoples of the African diaspora.

Structured as a poetic rumination, the film's story is told entirely through the voice-over of an anonymous dead African slave whose spirit haunts the ocean route. When he sees a little boy clad in modern clothes gazing upon the beautiful African beach, he is compelled to speak of the horrors hidden by the sea. He speaks of being sold by a brutal African prince into slavery and of sailing 18 weeks in crushing transit amid sickness and scurvy. He tells of being seized by hope with talk of revolt and plunged into despair upon meeting defeat. He talks of memories of a happy life in Africa and how the grueling journey led to his gradual and complete psychological decimation.

Des Lauriers's lushly stylized visualization and Patrick Chamoiseau and Claude Chonville's intelligent script provoke a searing realization of the enormity of beauty and humanity lost to the world on this abominable expedition. The viewer cannot help but emerge from the theatre transformed and with new eyes.

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]