France/ UK, 2004
27 min. Digibeta PAL, Colour, Stereo

Directed, Produced, Written, Camera, Edited Laura Waddington
Co-produced Love Streams Agnes b. Paris
Music Simon Fisher Turner
Voice Laura Waddington


The 57th Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland, August 2004


In 2002, Laura Waddington spent months in the fields around Sangatte Red Cross camp, France with Afghan and Iraqi refugees, who were trying to cross the channel tunnel to England. Filmed at night with a small video camera, the figures lit only by the distant car headlights on the motorways, Border is a personal account of the refugees’ plight and the police violence that followed the camp’s closure.

Director’s statement

In the days, if you wandered along the motorways and the wastelands, you could see the refugees everywhere: waiting on the roadside or headed to the port and the freight trains. They travelled in twos or threes or sometimes in groups of twenty or thirty. 
At night, I’d walk along the roads with them. It took two or three hours to reach the spots on the channel tunnel fence, where they’d start to cut the wire. Then came the arrests and the police bus back to the camp. A few hours later, they’d re-emerge and the perverse game of cat and mouse would start again. 
Most of the refugees were from Iraq and Afghanistan. They’d taken six or seven months to get to France, paying traffickers to smuggle them in trucks across Iran, Turkey and the Balkans. Many had nothing left but the clothes they were standing in. In their countries, they’d been teachers, university professors, medical students, and bricklayers. 
Some men died in the tunnel, others had their arms or legs cut off by the moving trains. I remember, one boy who lost his leg was out on the road, the week he was released from the hospital, trying to escape again. The months passed in limbo. I couldn’t believe we had just left them there, as if our backs were turned to them.

Laura Waddington 2002

On the making of “Border”

I was filming with the shutter wide open to compensate for the lack of light in the fields and this produced images, which were stuttered and blurred, and sensitive to the slightest movement of my hand. If I breathed too heavily, shivered or trembled, the blur in an image would become too great and the refugees would dissolve, like ghosts, into the reeds and bushes.

related passage in “Scattered Truth”

Press Quotes

“But the shock of the (Locarno film) festival is the cinema of Laura Waddington, 34 years old, English, she lived illegally in New York, then spent a few years travelling with the world’s exiles in the most dangerous places. Due to a plane phobia, she made these journeys on buses, cargo ships, hitchhiking. But aside from planes, Laura Waddington is afraid of nothing and her video camera carries all her courage and her conscience. Slung across her shoulder. Border is the trace of the months she spent in Sangatte, hidden in the fields, each night, with Afghan and Iraqi refugees. Shot secretly, the shutter wide open, almost in slow motion, the images create an aesthetic experience of fear, of terror, as if fallen out of a nightmare, peopled with out of focus figures. Border links the fields of Sangatte to that terrified part of our imagination, hidden deep within all of us.”
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Philippe Azoury, LIBERATION, Paris

“A thousand miles away from the television reports that vainly try to give a hypothetical identity to these displaced bodies, Laura Waddington’s desperate camera scrupulously avoids the refugees’ faces to convey an animal condition, a status of hunted beasts. Nothing predatory, no social dogma, just real empathy in this worried and audacious filming. And if the image is superb, at times pushing Border towards the boundaries of video dance and thus annoying certain guards of the temple of ethics, this is primarily due to a technical necessity, the DV camera’s shutter wide open to compensate for the lack of light, resulting in a large trembling grain, an impression of slow motion, movements like so many imprints.”
Bertrand Loutte, LES INROCKUPTIBLES, Paris

“Subtle and powerful, the work of this English filmmaker, nomadic observer of the world and devoted translator of fear and hope, as in the film Border (International Competition/ Special Mention) a tragic document about the powerless attempts of Afghan and Iraqi refugees to escape from France to England and the violent police repression that followed the closure of the camp of Sangatte.”
Elena Marcheschi, IL MANIFESTO, Italy

“Juxtaposed with eloquent images that suggest way more than what they actually show. The result is simply astonishing: an expressionist piece with a visual and sound design that wondrously exposes, in a reflexive manner, the pain and suffering of others as though it were your own”
Pablo Suárez BUENOS AIRES HERALD, Argentina

“Set only in the wide open, with refugees, silhouettes in the sheltering darkness, moving in the wind and the rain, crossing landscapes, anonymous to the eye yet known by name to the narrator, Laura Waddington… There’s a heroic compassion of quasi-Kurosawa’ian dimensions to each image, a justness to each movement that in its humbleness speaks gloriously of all the growth and learning done in all those years on the road.”
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Olaf Möller , THE DAYS AND YEARS OF MY TRAVELS, The 51st Pesaro Film Fest Catalogue 2005

Border bears witness to the harsh reality of shadows, to a group of invisible people at the side of the road and is the most eloquent political and artistic metaphor ever expressed”

“There are few things as important in cinema today as the efforts of brave filmmakers like Laura Waddington. In the spirit of Hanoun, Ivens, Adachi and others, Waddington loaned her physical presence to the cause, spending months at the Sangatte Red Cross Camp…The rarefied ambiance of Waddington’s images is difficult to forget… May the poetry of the moving image save us from this world.”
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José Sarmiento Hinojosa, #Crucial21DbW: Border, Crucial 21st Century Cinema #DirectedbyWomen

“Have the fireflies disappeared? Of course not. Some of them are very near to us — they brush against us in the night; others have gone elsewhere, beyond the horizon, trying to reform their community, their minority, their shared desire. Even here, Waddington’s images remain, as well as the names—in the closing credits—of all those people she met. We can watch the film again, we can show it, and circulate glimpses, which will spark others: firefly-images.”
read book passage
Georges Didi-Huberman, SURVIVANCE DES LUCIOLES, Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris, 2009

“The images in Border… search for a new formula of community based around sharing a common space and a gaze that would take the gaze of the other into account. These, as Sergey Eisenstein would say, “inspired images of audiovisual exaltation” emerge… from a place where politics is born, even though it is not called politics and has no representatives.”
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“in these prolonged shots there is the courageous will of Waddington to explore the shadowy zones of the contemporary, the territories occupied by the invisible peoples, dragging themselves into the bubble of globalization.”
read book passage
Stefania Rimini, IMMAGINAZIONI: RISCRITTURE E IBRIDAZIONI FRA TEATRO E CINEMA, Bonanno Editore, Gruppo Editoriale s.r.l. Roma 2012

“The immediacy of the struggle: René Vautier named this cinema of performative immediacy a cinema of social intervention, which has as its aim the success of a struggle and the concrete transformation of a situation of conflict or injustice. This in situ cinema, nowadays accomplished… by Laura Waddington when she follows the struggle of immigrants in Border or by Godard when he made Prière pour refusniks

“There is something tragically beautiful in the images of Waddington, which call to mind the phrase that Grandieux and Brenez used for their series on filmmakers, committed to political resistance: “It may be that beauty has strengthened our resolve.” These images serve, not to calm our alienated guilt, product of our physical and emotional distance from the foreigner, but to unleash an exercise in empathy, a resurrection of memory, a fever of humanity and the strengthening of our inner flame.”
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José Sarmiento Hinojosa DESIST FILM, Online Film Journal, Peru, 2019

“It was in 2002: the illegality of the situation, the police lieing in wait, the race through the fields, the omnipresence of the night lit only by the danger of helicopter searchlights, all that gives her film’s images their condition of invisibility, but also, more powerfully a proximity to these men, these women and these children whose features we hardly see – whose desperate clamours we hear at a moment when faced with the police– but of who the film manages to construct, admirably, like a poem, their dignity.”
read book passage
Georges Didi-Huberman, DICTIONNAIRE MONDIAL DES IMAGES, Nouveau Monde Eds, Paris, 2006

“radically opposed to the language of television, refusing the informative stance of documentary, the author shares in Border her active experience of video-militancy in action, working on the frontier of images and with a sense of emptiness and loss – anchoring inside her memory and that of the spectators, almost like an oxymoron, the undefined presence of those without a face, without documents, who go in search of a future, reclaiming their right to exist, to be recognised by the world, and to live..”
read book passage

“causing a shockwave within the audience at the time [..] Border revealed the pitiful truth about the police violence ensuing from the closure of the refugee camp […] Georges Didi-Huberman named Waddington’s often blurred, abstracted images made with a small video camera firefly images, confronting us with the furtive appearance and disappearance of firefly peoples. Powerfully, Didi-Huberman refused to speak of refugees, and instead proposed the term “fugitives.”
Hilde Van Gelder, GROUND SEA: PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE RIGHT TO BE REBORN, Leuven University Press 2021

“A radical call for heterogeneity, diversity, the image saturated to the limits of the visible, producing the disconcerting revelation: there is nothing left to see, only pieces to gather. It is, without doubt, what we call a vision of the world, the least obvious but the most painfully contemporary”
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“Intent on transgressing the modes of cinéma-verité, she does not observe the refugees from the outside: she moves with them, in the cold of the night; penetrating their anguish and their fears, initiating an insecure negotiation with reality. She performs a total adhesion: she seeks a visual cancellation of her gaze, to become part of the fields, of the panted breaths, of the attempts to run towards a more peaceful destination. A poignant critical testimony, the filmic tale is at turns disorganised and hallucinatory, crossed by “sparks of humanity” They are “glare-images” that, as Georges Didi-Huberman has written, always seem to be on the verge of disappearing: dirty, battered, out of focus, grainy […] Conceived to “organise our pessimism”“
Vincenzo. Trione, ARTIVISMO, ARTE, POLITICA, IMPEGNO, publ. Einaudi, Italy 2022

“It feels increasingly important as Border’s creation retreats into the past, even as refugees continue to arrive at Europe’s borders, to consider the possibility that although the individuals it records are no longer in this place – and we have no access to what has become of them – their images retain, or regain, their resilient power and present relevance at each new viewing.”
read book passage


Grand Prix Experimental-essai-art video, Cote Court, France
First Prize Videoex 2005, Festival of  Experimental Film and Video Zurich, Switzerland
Special Mention Ecumenical Jury, The 51st Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany

Desist Film’sTop 50 Films of All Time


The 57th Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland, August 2004 (World premiere)
The 33rd Montreal Festival of New Cinema and New Media, Canada, 2004
The 19th Festival International du Film de Belfort, France, 2004
The Human Rights Film Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, 2004
The 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2005
The 59th Edinburgh International Film Festival, Scotland, 2005
The European Parliament, Brussels, 2005
“La Semaine des realisateurs, 2005” Fespaco, Ouagadougou, Burkinao Faso, 2005
The 51st Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Germany,  2005
The 12th New York Video Festival 2005, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, 2005
One World, 7th International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Prague, 2005
The Images Festival, 18th Edition, Toronto, Canada, 2005
“Cine y Casi Cine”, The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2005
The 6th Seoul Film Festival, South Korea, “Manifesta”, 2005
Le 28ème Festival du Court Métrage de Clermont-Ferrand, France, 2006
The 21st Mar del Plata International Film Festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2006
“Vidéo et après: Laura Waddington” Musée National d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, November 2006


Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BnF, Paris
International Film Festival Oberhausen, Film and video archive, Germany
Musée national de l’histoire de immigration, Paris
Cinémathèque de Tanger, Morocco
INVIDEO Archive A.I.A.C.E, Milan, Italy
Bibliothèque de l’Université Laval, Quebec, Canada
Bibliothèque de l’Ecole supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France
Bibliotheque de l’Universite de Geneve, Switzerland
Texas A&M University Library, Texas, US

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