"Brexitannia": a new documentary gives a balanced picture of Brexit's passions and ideas
Brexit doesn't appear much in these pages - we want the Alternative UK to be a zone where, as much as possible, we escape the usual divisions of official political discourse.
But Brexit (and Trump) was also the moment that sparked the founding of A/UK. We wanted to respond to the deep questions asked by "take back control", the powerful emotions running under the surface of both the Leave and the Remain vote.
Many of the specific "alternatives" we explore here - day after day, sourced locally, nationally, continentally and globally - are a kind of answer to the questions raised by Brexit. What new places, spaces and structures can take the deep popular desire for autonomy, for control, forward? How can we talk to each other about this? What can we positively agree to do, and build, together?
So it's refreshing to see a creative response to post-Brexit Britain that takes listening as its fundamental principle, and explicitly acknowledges the crisis of self-understanding at the heart of the vote and its aftermath.
"Brexitannia" (available from iTunes here) is a documentary from the Australian filmmaker Timothy George Kelly (the trailer is at the end of this post). Filmed in black and white, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 vote, it is structured into two parts. The first is a montage of testimony from "the People" (referendum voters from across the islands), and the second (shorter) part is from "the Experts" (including luminaries like Noam Chomsky, Guy Standing and Nick Snricek).
An LSE blog on the documentary lays out its distinctive worth:
In the weeks that followed the referendum, Kelly travelled up and down the UK interviewing members of the public about Brexit. He structured the interviews, loosely, around three themes: first, interviewees’ attitudes to the past; second, their perspective on the present, including Brexit; and thirdly, their fears and hopes for the future...
Near enough 200 people were interviewed, from all over England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They were filmed within a few minutes of their home or place of work. Staging the film in the material reality of the ‘everyday’ adds huge visual authenticity to the documentary’s verbal content. One interviewee bemoans the EU’s obsession with banning curved cucumbers from her garden, another reflects on the decline of coal mining outside a burnt-out house in Hawarden near Newcastle...
‘Normal’ people just like us speak standing on football pitches, outside blocks of flats in Wales, sitting in the pub with a pint, and from an office in Bolton (‘Boltopia’, as the interviewee describes it). One interviewee bemoans the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy from a pebbled beach, another muses on Britishness near a lighthouse in Plymouth.
In keeping with the free form of the film in general, many speak from locations not always identifiable by scenery: front rooms and various fields, parks and scraps of wasteland around the UK feature heavily. In London, scenes of grinding poverty in the foreground are contrasted with the shining metropolis of Canary Wharf and the City behind.
Relaxing at home, a Polish man tells us if he had been eligible to vote, he would have voted to Leave. There are some fairly ugly views represented around such issues as immigration, as well as some thoughtful reflections on the future of Britain and British democracy...
[The documentary maker] wanted the on-screen interview breakdown to reflect as near as possible the actual referendum outcome. At 54% Leave to 46%, the final percentage is pretty much there, after much cutting and editing. It is rare for the interviewees to be heard saying how they voted: we in the audience have to draw our own conclusions. Our visual preconceptions are often challenged – deliberately – by what comes out of the interviewees’ mouths. This is not a documentary that deals in glib stereotypes.
Of course, every documentary is the director's cut - each snippet of dialogue, each visual framing an individual artist's choice. So there is no ultimate "truth" to Brexit available here. But arts, culture and media has its work cut out, to keep creating mutual spaces that increase empathy, and transcend the divisions across these islands.
In A/UK, we are as interested in science-fiction that opens up new possible worlds, as we are in meditations on the recent past. But "Brexitannia" looks like it does the latter with sensitivity and awareness.