Sangatte Frontier of The World

Federica, Italy 2005.

By Federica Sossi

In Laura Waddington’s Border meaning is conveyed, using distilled and dreamlike imagery. There are only two colours, red and black. A red sky and black earth, sometimes a black sky and red earth. We do not hear a sound, no music, only her voice, punctuating the silence and the poetry of her narrative.

A new way of portraying the present: that of the borders, surrounding Europe and our lives, as if in talking of borders, we must also cross a distance in our minds. Border, frontier and limit of everything. Also of our inner experience; the space between our lives and the people who pass us by, glancing and coming to conclusions, without knowing who we are: “And you walk all day. And the people who live among you, they don’t know anything. You cannot tell them you were in Sangatte.” Border ends with these words, establishing a final, impenetrable border. And Laura, director of images, that carry audiences outside themselves remains inside the border, inside the impossible space, defined by our frontiers.

Sangatte, frontier of the world. And symbol of the present with which to talk of all the frontiers of the world. A man’s silhouette moves across the black earth. In the red sky there are points that are redder, almost on fire. At first they seem to be suns but they are headlights. Headlights, that light up the silhouette of this man, who has no face and eyes. He has a body but he is trying so hard to disappear into the bushes, he has almost become part of the landscape, in which he hides. He is trying to mould into the reeds, like the many men around him and like Laura, who accompanies them with her camera. She runs when they run and waits among these hunted men, capturing images of their silhouettes against the odds. “Sometimes, when I lost them running from the police, I was suddenly afraid.”

These hunted bodies, who Laura has lost, wait each night for a train, a passage, the unreal possibility of crossing the border. Sometimes, someone loses an arm, a leg, somebody dies. The train does not stop to let them on. It passes at full speed along the tracks by the bushes, then enters the tunnel, the technical pride of the two neighbouring countries. They wait and run when the headlights approach, climb on the train if they can or remain on the tracks if they haven’t managed to jump, returning into the bushes and making their way home, if one of them has not lost an arm or leg in the attempt. They move in groups with other hunted men or are escorted back by the police, as happens almost every night, when the men with faces and uniforms lie in wait in the hedges by the tracks to arrest them.

A home or a camp is the same for these bodies. Sangatte, frontier of the world. Sixty three thousand refugees passed through here, during the years of the camp’s existence. For three years, between September 1999 and December 2002, there was a sign on the motorway near Boulogne sur mer, next to Sangatte camp, saying that England was only two footsteps away. Not for these hunted men, whose nights Laura Waddington shows us. The sky is still red as we approach the camp. Here, another silhouette, that of a dancing man. He is dancing behind the bars and fences. He too is filmed in an abstract way and has no face and eyes. Other figures pass along the road in groups, small and large outlines, children behind adults, returning to their camp home, after a failed attempt to cross.

Refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kurdistan. “I knew a teacher from Kurdistan and his two children,” the voice over tells us, “They had nobody waiting and nowhere to go.” Refugees from other countries too, like the teacher and his two children with nowhere to go. And yes. The place itself the problem. All of them have tried to mould into the shrubs in the landscape in order to reach the train, jumping on the wagons, tightening their grip as it speed, in order to cross the tunnel to England. Not towards a place, only towards the last possibility of a place, beyond which lies emptiness. At first, other places, real to their inhabitants and unreal to them. They have crossed four or five countries, two or three in Europe, presumably Greece, from Greece to Italy, from Italy to France and now only England remains and that train or that ship, near the camp of Sangatte, the only place that is real to them. Inhabitants of a camp, therefore not refugees but refused people. Sangatte, frontier of the world and symbol of all the borders of the world and of Europe, at a time when refugees are refused or at best inhabitants of a camp.

A red sky and black earth, sometimes a black sky and red earth. Images that speak of unreality, as in a dream, a nightmare, something we carry inside us, an intimate space, which those around us do not suspect. A way of talking about the reality of the camp and the refused people of the earth. I do not know if this film will speak to everyone. It is certainly an attempt to make us feel we are there, hunted men and women, waiting for the train, silhouettes of children and adults on the road to the camp, faces that suddenly surge up and scream, when the men with their faces and their uniforms use their violence and batons. This scene of violence is the only scene in which the silence is broken and the refused bodies take on a physical presence. Then the images dissolve, the bodies of the refused people regain their unreal consistency. Indistinct silhouettes. Contours. Then nothing.

(translated from the Italian)

“Sangatte, frontiera del mondo” by Federica Sossi “, Cinema e Globalizzazione” Italy, February 2005