Laura Waddington: The Videomaker of Wandering

Pascal MieszalaPlan Rapproché, 2005.

By Pascal Mieszala

Imagine a young director alone during six weeks on a cargo ship with sailors from different countries, en route to the Middle East. Imagine that same director, who during seven months, spent nights, hidden in the woods among Afghan and Iraqi refugees, desperate to get away from the Sangatte refugee camp and reach England. CARGO and Border are the result of these human and artistic experiences. Laura Waddington’s talent does not simply consist in observing reality. Whether scrutinizing the shadows (you won’t easily forget the haunting nocturnal images of Border) or focusing on the faces of men adrift (the sailors in CARGO appear to come straight out of a novel, a feeling heightened by the style of the voice-over) her video camera transports us into a dimension where time no longer has a hold. A sensory experience during which we become sailors without a port or refugees in the night. Ghosts wandering over the surface of our earth. Whether working on the borders of reality and fiction (CARGO) or depicting the fate of refugees (Border) the director bears witness in her own way, to the fate of those who have no voice…  Her cinema is the reflection of a generous soul.

PASCAL MIESZALA: I imagine that you don’t have a precise script while you are shooting. In what state of mind are you? What guides your eye?

LAURA WADDINGTON: When I start making a video, I never know exactly where I’m going: there are a few images in my head, perhaps a story I’ve heard, a face or a conversation. During the shoot and the period preceding it, I try to be as open and available to things as possible and to leave space for accidents and the people I meet. For example, before making Border, I travelled to Kurdistan by bus and train. At one point I found myself travelling with some smugglers. The memory of this bus with a false floor crossing the fields of Bulgaria and Rumania in the middle of the night stayed with me and it’s one of the reasons I went to Sangatte.

I work slowly. Often before I film a person or a place, weeks go by. There has to be a kind of trust between us, a friendship. Then I start to film with a small video camera, used by tourists. I don’t reflect on what I’m filming, I just go with people and my instinct. For instance, the refugees who invited me to accompany them into the fields around Sangatte, asked me to film them without showing their faces. It was important to move quickly and most of all to not attract the attention of the police.

PM: Simon Fisher Turner’s music plays an important role. What emotions are you wanting to communicate?

LW: I’d known Simon Fisher Turner’s music since I was a teenager. He wrote the music for films of Derek Jarman, such as Caravaggio, The Garden and Blue, which really inspired me. Simon has a way of working which I feel close to: he works a lot at home, mixing old equipment such as REVOX with new technology. For Border, I wanted him to create something between sound and music, which would act like a sort of cloud beneath the image. I wanted the music to be almost boring, a kind of circle, echoing the repetitive way in which the refugees would set out to the fields each night, only to be caught and brought back to the camp by the police a few hours later.

One day, before he had even seen the images I’d shot in Sangatte, Simon sent me a CD of experiments. In it there was a loop of a segment, originally a few seconds long, I telephoned Simon and told him I wanted to use this loop throughout the whole film. He agreed straight away. I think there are few musicians who would be prepared to take the risk to make something so simple.
PM: Is it during the editing phase that you discover the meaning of your films?

LW: Normally, I come back with tens of hours of images and conversations. Then, I reduce just to an idea. For example with CARGO, the sailors were always telling me they had the impression they were going round in circles, constantly travelling without seeing anything. It was this image that stayed in my mind in the editing room. Rather than making a traditional documentary, I decided to concentrate just on communicating this feeling, that I shared with the sailors, of looking at the world through a port hole without being able to participate or understand.

With Border, what struck me in Sangatte was the fact that each night hundreds of refugees were running through the fields chased like animals by the police, while a few minutes away, people were sitting calmly in their homes watching television. I decided to concentrate solely on this aspect. I wanted to speak about these two worlds, which co-existed in the same space, these men and women who were crossing the French countryside like ghosts in the night.

(Translated from the French)

Pascal Mieszala, “Laura Waddington: La Vidéaste de l’errance” Plan Rapproché 100, APCVL, France, December 2005