On Our Doorstep (2023)

Rated 15
Spoiler Free

“At that time, I’d rather build them a shelter than try to get them to tell me their story”

Anyone with half an eye on politics over the last ten years (in the United Kingdom at least), or who drove through Calais in much of this time, will know of the huge presence of people desperate to escape whatever awful situation was in their country for the UK. Now, whatever preconceived ideas one might have, or horror stories heard, there is no doubting that the temporary camp set up in Calais, known as the “Jungle”, was a horrible place to be.

Thomas Laurance’s documentary On Our Doorstep isn’t just a film he made, it is a life he lived. As a volunteer in the Jungle, Laurance also filmed events and interviews with refugees and NGO workers battling pretty much every difficulty you could imagine. The press release describes his film as “patchwork” and that’s a good word for it. So good, in fact, that I toyed with using it and pretending it wasn’t pilfered from the press release.

I know a person who was a proper hero about what he did during the Ukrainian exodus, and his self aggrandising ego trip infuriated me. It seemed to me as if everything he did was to get praise for himself. On Our Doorstep, I hoped, would not be the same self importance, the same privileged martyrdom. As you can probably guess, I was pleased that it isn’t.

While it prominently features one volunteer, she is a loose conduit for the overwhelming strength of the film, its imagery. She’s kinda engaging and enjoys the limelight, though someone who shied from it would scarcely make a good subject. The film grazes past people, capturing their situation but never fully examining it. This is the issue with a patchwork, a posteriori, production, patchwork being a word I definitely came up with myself.

Considering it is collated, On Our Doorstep is superbly shot and excellently wound together; a feat of editing to be lauded. The fight against bureaucracy is deep, as an NHS worker I know that and in my job it is supposed to help us. In the Jungle it very much feels like something people put in place to aid the powers which be in not helping. The visuals of this vicious vicinity vibrate and wow, in contrast with the drudgery of red tape.

It is moving, in places, though it doesn't shy away from humanising the refugees in ways which might seem damaging. One boy who while being patched up from an injury is complaining he doesn’t have a good enough phone made me think, wanker, but then, he’s a kid at the end of the day. On Our Doorstep is cleverly challenging, and the more I reflect on it the more I like that Laurance et al. left those moments in.

Bedsit it?

On Our Doorstep has many strengths, most prevalently its looks, though lacks for a true centre and oddly can’t make quite as powerful a point as I was hoping it would but it is skillfully put together, a unique, even handed insight, great to look at and emotionally investing. 7/10

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