One of the most hysterical political issues in the UK (and around the world) in the current decade is immigration. It is the thread that political commentators use to combine all of the other heated debates: religious freedom/persecution, economics, terrorism, education, the EU, unemployment – anything that winds up UKIP voters and little Englanders is pinned on immigrants.
It is a shame then that the first feature film from prolific political filmmaker Bruce Goodison has had such a small release. If Daily Mail journalists and BNP supporters were forced to watch it then perhaps it would humanize the people of which they are so angry towards and maybe change (or at least soften) a few opinions.
The film follows ‘Uncle Nigel’ (Toby Jones), a teacher and support worker who works with young asylum seekers in East London. He is working with Omar (Noof Ousellam), an Afghani refugee who has escaped the Taliban and has become a public speaker telling his story to anyone who will listen. Omar lives in shared housing with other teenagers awaiting their status including primarily, Abdul (Zarrien Masieh), another troubled younger Afghani, and Zizidi (Yasmin Mwanza), a young woman escaping an abusive forced marriage in Guinea.
The story (which premiered at the One World Media Festival last year) centres on Omar’s appeal for Leave to Remain staus but is told through the young refugees attempts to integrate into London culture (via nightclubs and Fifa) and their experience with the immigration officials and the law courts. The solidarity that they share when living with each other is directly juxtaposed with the cold grey bureaucracy of the Home Office agencies. Individuals are reduced to raffle tickets with numbers on so that they can be processed efficiently, before being subjected to intimate questions about their abuse and suffering often using the impenetrable language of the English Legal System.
A title card at the beginning of the film states that “1000s of children arrive in the UK every year” and that “only 1 in 10 are granted refugee status”. This is an international problem, and the film does not try and provide big political answers, but instead to remind viewers that these statistics are humans with often horrific backstories. They are then subjected to stop and searches from the police and threatened with deportation for the slightest infringement.
Goodison made the decision to cast a selection of real young refugees to give a dignity and authenticity to the performances, as well as getting ∆ (alt-j) to provide a characteristically ethereal soundtrack.
This is a film about identity and solidarity. There are recurring shots of the young characters looking at reflections of themselves in windows, as if to recognise that they are different to the world around them. The young women especially who live together have very little in common but unite to look after each other against the seemingly oppressive establishment. The teenagers are all confused small fish in a harsh big pond and are given a humanity that is so often missing in culture/journalistic commentary about immigration and those praying for asylum.