I want to write about our freedom to work in other countries. As UKIP and the Front National are voted into the European Parliament, this basic human right is again threatened. I have just come back from Cannes Film Festival which celebrates international cinema and welcomes filmmakers from around the world. No one suggested that Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola or Leila Hatami should ‘go back where they came from’.
I have certainly learned the most in my life from working abroad.
I studied directing in England but was given the chance to make a film at the renowned Polish Film School thanks to a European MEDIA grant. Suddenly I was able to work with filmmakers from all over Europe. For the first time I saw my own films in a wider context and realised there were other ways to tell a story. Learning your trade in another country is a life-enriching experience I wish all people could try.
My greatest love has been America. I dreamed of studying there but couldn’t afford the school fees, and as a young filmmaker, couldn’t get sponsored for a work permit. After many years of visiting as a tourist, of writing and pitching ideas for US television and sitting in on screenwriting classes, I finally got sponsored by a TV company for an employment visa. I was there, working in both the UK and US, refining skills learned in both countries, comparing the differences, following in the footsteps of writers and directors who have taken the foreign as inspiration and used their outsider’s eye to see a little differently.
We desperately need this broader perspective if we are to move forward as a country. This year, as I crossed the US border into Mexico to see the moving effects of a mass deportation policy on migrant families, I was reminded of how rich and privileged I am to have a British passport and enough money to travel freely. Why do we deny the same right to people who can’t rely on privilege but just want to earn a living and contribute?
As thousands of migrants die in deserts, overheated trucks, under the wheels of trains or at the hands of people traffickers or border guards, we don’t make the connection between this huge economic migration and our own privileged ability to travel the globe for vacation or employment. I am tired of politicians blaming migrants for the recession and angry with an electorate that votes for the far right by way of complaining about house prices.
Now we have a government that believes we should study only English writers. I teach at an international film school that welcomes young actors, writers and director from all over the world to England so that they – and we – can learn from working with each other.
Closing our borders to people who want to contribute to our society is like locking ourselves into an air-tight room and then wondering why we can’t breathe. If we walk away from Europe and close our borders, we create an island fortress that holds us captive as surely as it keeps our neighbours out.