The film, Leave To Remain premiered at the Genesis Cinema as part of the London East End Film festival on Thursday night. This is the beginning of a countrywide release and the end of a long journey that started three years ago when director Bruce Goodison began exploring the treatment of teenage asylum seekers by the authorities for a documentary project. As the director became more involved and got to know some of the extremely, fragile young people, it became increasingly more evident that a documentary would expose these vulnerable minds to further intolerable pressures and as he says, the ‘responsible adult kicked in’. The stories were however too compelling to be left unheard and an extraordinary process begun.
Leave To Remain workshops were set up to support the young people caught in the asylum process, to explore and share their experiences through drama and film workshops. Eventually, a script was developed using these real life stories and through a careful process involving child psychologists certain children were invited to participate as actors in the film itself along side the professionals.
The story follows the lives of a group of teenagers as they await judgment on their cases by the authorities, supported by their teacher, the Guardianista, liberal ‘Nigel’ played by the perfectly cast Toby Jones (quite a coup). The protagonist Omar (played by the Scottish actor Noof Osellam) cleverly challenges any of us with similar left wing credentials but equally it is a dog whistle to conservative attitudes towards asylum.
Whilst this political debate is explored with careful ambivalence by the film makers, we are always reminded that these are children, which elevates this from a earnest public information film to something about the accidental inhumanity of authority and the state. This wonderful balance is entirely due to the heart breaking and tender performance of the very young Abdul (Masieh Zarrien) whose palpable trauma exudes through the screen. It’s a cinematic Speilbergian trick, completely and unashamedly playing to our parental caring instincts and it works; I challenge anyone not to want to immediately adopt him.
Izidi, beautifully performed by then novice actor Yazmin Mwanza is reminiscent of a young Maya Angelou struck dumb by trauma, slowly emerging with such great hope and optimism about the future that cannot fail to move. In fact this film for all its overt ‘boo hiss’ portrayals of the home office workers as the bad guys, never challenges the premise that the United Kingdom is a great country full of hope and opportunity, certainly relative to the nightmare worlds these children have (all be it temporarily) escaped.
Technically, as a photographer, I am a huge fan of the work of director of photography Felix Wiedemann, who helps to elevate the film to another level, with contemporary shallow focus and confident compositions and lighting that any stills photographer should envy. As a director, Goodison rises above his already award winning reputation as a TV drama documentary maker and has found a new subtly in his story telling. There are great little touches; when they go on a field trip the red cagoules are just reminiscent enough of the Guantanamo uniform and the portrayal of Britain is unadulterated with scenes that play in front of tatty, suburban London shop fronts and advertising hoardings promoting supermarket offers.
As you sit down with your popcorn it is not unhelpful to beware that this film is a testament to the extraordinary energy and commitment that can be found and that is required by many people to get any project made and introduced to the world. There is a constant of care that runs through this film that strangely moved me, its genuineness is its strength, and ultimately its primary concern is in the humanity and regardless of the politics and we should not forget that these are children.
For more information visit: http://leave2remainthefilm.com/