World in Motion

Following Refugees From Peshawar to London, Director Michael Winterbottom Finds His Personal Velocity

With In This World only now reaching U.S. audiences (on the heels of Stephen Frears's thriller Dirty Pretty Things, set among London's refugee underground), Winterbottom already has his next feature in the can: the nocturnal, near-futurist romance Code 46, starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton, which recently premiered at Venice. Filming exteriors in Shanghai, Dubai, and Jaipur, Winterbottom used handheld cameras, radio mics, and available light—the same semi-guerrilla technique he deployed to capture the thrum and throb of street life in his bittersweet paean to London, Wonderland (2000). "We wanted not to create an artificial world, but to use bits and pieces of the existing world and juxtapose them," he explains, "because the future's more likely to look like the real world today than any studio set you're likely to build."

Code 46 forecasts a global polar divide between heavily checkpointed urban labyrinths and barren no-man's-lands, a time when a person's freedom and livelihood heavily depend on a passport-cum-insurance plan called a "papelle." Sound familiar? "When we started working on the script, I was making In This World, and a lot of the texture of Code 46 came from our experiences in the deserts of Pakistan and Iran, the refugee camps, the hassles with visas," says Winterbottom.

In turn, In This World responds to a chronic virulent strain of anti-immigrant scaremongering in right-wing British tabloids like the Daily Mail and Daily Express, either of which could give John Ashcroft a run for his money in the xenophobia sweepstakes. "Whenever I come across them, I'm always astonished by the huge amount of space given to stories about bogus asylum seekers and people invading our country," Winterbottom says. "It's an obsession. We were lucky with In This World—in Britain it got a lot of press coverage and sparked discussion about immigration, and maybe someone who saw the film would spend an hour thinking about what it's like to be a refugee."

Go forward, move ahead: Winterbottom
photo: Diane Collins
Go forward, move ahead: Winterbottom

Related Article:
Michael Atkinson's "review of In This World

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