In Praise of Migrants


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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.

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Shooting in Poland

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.

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Directing ‘In Search of Food’ in the US

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?

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Deported migrants in Mexico

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.

 

 

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The Rise of the Slow Burn Series

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Inspired by the end of ‘Top of the Lake’ and still missing ‘The Returned’, I steel myself to watch the misty nightmare that is Southcliffe.  The slow-burn drama series is enjoying a (long) moment – but what’s the appeal of these cult shows and what can they teach us about great storytelling?

My favourite show for many years was the fast-moving, action-packed and slickly edited ‘CSI’ series in the US.  These days I’m watching the hypnotic yet relatively slow moving ‘Hannibal’.   Scandi-Noir series ‘The Killing ‘and ‘Borgen’ have no doubt had a big influence on this new movement with Danish drama, ‘The Bridge’, the latest show to be remade for Sky Atlantic.

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So is slow the new fast?  These cult series demand your attention but in different ways.  How?

Less is more.  Less plot means more time for atmosphere and emotion.  The characters take centre stage, and the primacy of relationships is reiterated, allowing us to connect more strongly with their journeys.

You have to concentrate.  It’s much harder to second screen when watching as the plot is not as formulaic.  You can’t predict the sudden revelation or shock event as you are not set up for it with heavy music cues and other tension building devices.  So you give it your undivided attention, like watching a movie. The fact you can pause the show or watch it On Demand means you can sit down and watch it when you’re ready, with no ad breaks.  So less time doing recaps and flashy end of act breaks and more time telling the story.

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The Show Runner as Auteur.  From ‘Buffy’ to ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Mad Men’, to ‘Breaking Bad’, the Americans have led the way with the rise of the creative writer/producer who has a vision for a new kind of TV show. But with the migration of cinema stars and directors to the small screen in search of funding for mid-budget drama, Jane Campion and Steven Soderbergh are now directing for television and Video on Demand.  Which means…

Television is the new Cinema.  These series are high on visual style.  The dialogue is minimal.  There is nothing ‘domestic’ about these dramas.  The landscape is a big attraction.  The beauty of New Zealand, of the French mountains, creates a form of visual-tourism, we can escape to these worlds and feel our world expanded by them.  And yet…

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They are Other-Worldly.  Supposedly real settings feel decidedly unreal.  Artful cinematography mediates nature creating a feeling of isolation from the real world.

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The Village is Key.  Most of these series are about a community in peril, the multi-protagonist storylines perfectly suited to TV’s broader canvas.  We have time to get to know whole families and learn about their world as it implodes around them.  This is not a new idea but the village has been reinvented – as unstable, damaged, at risk of flooding, occupied by squatters, or terrorised by a gunman who lives there.  And we are all shown as culpable because each character is connected to the main event in a very real way.

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Complex and Real Characters.  With less plot, the characters have time to breathe and have all the quirks and desires of real people.  Even if they behave in extreme ways we understand the psychology behind what they do, and so can relate it to our own experience.  The genius of ‘The Returned’ was to ask what real life questions and emotional damage the return of a dead loved one would create…

The most exciting revelation of these slow-burn series is this –

We are focused on the inner not the outer life.  Rather just the depiction of reality – the illusion of progress with a logical plot and cause and effect reactions, we are faced with the unpredictable and illogical world of a dream.  Isn’t that closer to the reality we face every day?

The writer with something to say and directors with new ways of saying it are at the heart of this new wave of dramas.  No more pretty pictures tied up in a bow for us to sleepwalk through.  Jane Campion and Co are plumbing the depths of the lake,  drenching us with images and ideas that wake us up, pushing us into new ways of seeing.

We are active viewers again.  And it feels good.

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How have you been inspired by recent TV drama? Leave a comment here or find me on Twitter @emlin32.  Happy viewing…