This film will take you into an unreported world…without adults…three young castaways…go on an unforgettable journey…
To mark Human Rights Day 2012, film director Bruce Goodison blogs for us about his upcoming film Leave2Remain, a provocative and gripping coming-of-age drama about young people cut loose from UK society – because they’re seeking asylum.
Today marks 64 years since the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). The declaration was a seminal moment in the history of international cooperation: though the values at its core have existed cross-culturally for centuries, it was the first global enunciation of freedom, justice and peace as fundamental entitlements, a statement steeped in significance for a world still shaking from the atrocities of the Second World War. In the chequered history of the 20th century, it is a moment more heroic than many others. It is to be celebrated then, that on its anniversary each year, we are encouraged to reflect upon this noble project and its continued necessity.
By chance this day of global importance is, this year, also a time of personal significance, as the Leave to Remain film – a project I have been working on for over three long years – finished filming last Friday. It is a pertinent time then, both personally and publicly, to pause and reflect on Leave to Remain, a film which, in telling the stories of children seeking sanctuary, tackles the complexities of human rights head-on. It is a film which shows – for all the optimism and integrity of those involved in developing the UNDHR more than half a century ago – that the systems responsible for upholding people’s human rights on the ground, in particular the right to seek asylum, often still leaves much to be desired.
Friendship, resilience and survival
Leave to Remain is a film about three teenagers, forced to flee from countries across the world, who are thrown together to build a new life, alone in England’s capital. As wars raged across the middle east in retaliation for 9/11 and other foreign policy agendas were implemented, I became aware of the inevitable blow back of our ‘interventions, namely the creation of such widespread instability that thousands of people were forced to flee their homes: the asylum seekers who reach our shores. I became specifically aware of the rise in parentless teenagers seeking safety – the most vulnerable of all. Adults make the choice to come here, children don’t. I struggled to contemplate how teenagers could be cast away from everything familiar to them, plunged into an alien society and expected to build a life. It seemed incredibly unjust and I felt compelled to explore their stories further.
No drab story of victimhood
So began an extensive process of approaching organisations which worked with these vulnerable teenagers, and over time, as I got to know them, many brave young people began to entrust me with their stories. As people shared their personal narratives with me, I made the decision to tell this tale as a fictional drama. I wanted to avoid the exposure that my collaborators would doubtless feel if their individual experiences were laid bare in a documentary film. Instead, with a wealth of stories to guide my way, I wrote a script which seemed to reflect the shared experiences of many of these young people. Distilled in the journeys of the film’s three main protagonists, are the lives of many others. I aimed also to reflect the entire spectrum of separated children’s lives. This was not going to be a drab story of victimhood. I wanted to show the friendship, resilience and survival that I had witnessed amongst these people from across the world.
Made with and by young people
Whilst writing the story, I also began to run workshops with young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in order to find a cast for the movie. I wanted this to be a film not simply about young people seeking safety, but a film made with and by them. After our final set of auditions and rehearsals we selected an excellent cast of professional and non-professional actors, including a number who had encountered the asylum process first-hand as children.
Moving people emotionally
I think one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is to make works of art that mobilise social change. I am always inspired by cinema’s ability to stir political awareness within audiences who may otherwise think that activism is not their thing. By moving people emotionally, one can often have a profound impact on people’s social conscience. In 1966, when the BBC screened Cathy Come Home for the first time, it was watched by 12 million people. The film alerted the public, the media, and the government to the scale of the housing crisis, and Shelter – a newly formed organisation at this point – gained many new supporters in the immediate aftermath.
Meaningful social impact
In making Leave to Remain, I hope to encourage a renewed discussion about the rights of unaccompanied young people, and exposing their situation to a wider audience, I aim for people to feel inspired to press for change. Furthermore, ensuring the actual process of filmmaking has included young refugees at its core, I believe that the shoot itself has had a meaningful social impact too. The undermining and socially isolating experience of coming to the UK without parents means that unaccompanied asylum seekers are often in search of a way to be loved and to create a sense of belonging. Contributing to this film, in which their experiences are valued, their stories credited and their skills recognised, is huge step in improving their self esteem , which has taken a huge bash from the full weight of rejection inherent in navigating an unfair asylum system. Knowing that they are contributing to a project which seeks to be truthful to their lives and the lives of others like them, has left our young actors motivated and inspired. Indeed, when we were still deciding the roles, one of our young refugee contributors proclaimed he would be happy to play any role – even just to wash the dishes for the cast – if it meant he would be able to be part of helping the film get made. Eventually he was cast in a lead role, avoiding his imagined position as the team’s kitchen porter! His affinity with the project was a heartening affirmation as we went into production.
The authority and weight of real experience
The refugee and migrant actors we’ve worked with have shown the pros a thing or two in this film. Though the actual technical knowledge of being on a set has been new, they have instructed us all about being brave and disciplined. They have a been a joy to work with, their performances have been outstanding and they’ve enabled the professional actors to develop and expand their understanding by offering a context for every scene, explaining every emotion that was felt at each stage in the asylum process. They have offered a unique contribution, which is the authority and weight of real experience. Indeed, one of our cast was still waiting in limbo for the outcome of his claim, right until a few days before we started filming. He has been granted five years Leave to Remain, a happy result in a process which is not always so fair.
Fair treatment, recognition and support
I, and the rest of the Leave to Remain team, look forward to showing the film to the world some time in 2013. My final plea this International Human Rights day is to remember that seeking asylum from sanctuary is a universal right. Coming to England was not a choice for these young people. They were sent as the only other option was unthinkable. No parent wants to be separated from their children and no child wants to be separated from their family and country. When they arrive, they deserve fair treatment, recognition and support. I hope that Leave to Remain makes this message clear.
You can follow the news of the Leave to Remain film on Facebook and Twitter. Also, become a co-producer by pledging to the film via Buzzbnk crowdfunding site.