Laura Waddington, Border

Fiona TriggTurbulence, The 3rd Auckland Triennial Catalogue, 2007.

By Fiona Trigg

In 1999 the Red Cross established Sangatte, a refugee camp one and a half hour’s drive from Paris. It was not a detention centre but provided material support to refugees, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who were trying to get to England. Many made the last leg of their journey hidden in trucks organised by smugglers but for those without money the only option lay in trying to evade the police and jump the trains going through the Channel Tunnel.

In 2002, Laura Waddington spent many nights in the fields and roads around Sangatte, walking to the trains with the refugees, building friendships and shooting video. Border presents her memories and observations of that time. Working alone with a small video camera, and in low light conditions made it difficult to record pristine images. With the aperture wide open, and the shutter set to a slow rate that captures less than the standard flow of 25 frames per second, the images register at the very edge of the equipment’s technical ability to capture them.

Both the situation and the filmmaker’s non-intrusive way of working dictated this approach, but the power of Border lies in the way it turns the resultant ‘poor’ images into resonant and poetic metaphors for the precarious state of the displaced people who are at the heart of the film. Just as the camera struggles to find figures in the dark, nations struggle to find words and policies that register the presence, much less recognise the human rights of refugees who travel the black market routes shadowing the global trade in goods.

Waddington’s camera brings us troubling messages from the night; the industrial haze bruising the sky, lights on the horizon where people sit at home watching television, a world away from the men and children moving through the grass like ghosts. The slow exposure gives light time to register as a flying blur and our minds quieten before the hypnotic pulse of the abstract and the abject. Except for the sequence showing police and refugees clashing after the eventual closure of the camp, all natural sound is replaced by a needle-fine rain of electronic music, and sparse narration that evokes rather than describes individuals in the fields, “…and there were children, they had no-one waiting and no-where to go”.

Border calls to mind Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) where extended shots of grass waving in the battlefield act as a visual narcotic which creates a space for daydreaming about the soldiers caught in the violence of war. The sensuality of these images imprints the emotions of the film deeply on the memory.

Waddington does not try to speak on the refugees’ behalf. She gives her audience space to wonder about the lives these people have lived and what their futures hold. She spends time showing us the sites of their humiliation, and invites us to contemplate why it is that refugees without papers cause so much disturbance at the border between self and stranger.

“Laura Waddington, Border”, by Fiona Trigg, Turbulence, The 3rd Auckland Triennial Catalogue, New Zealand, 2007