News coverage of migrants in Calais, and their repeated attempts to get to the UK by any means, has reached new heights of intensity.
Just over a year ago, film student James Sparkes (and his team of fellow students) made a short documentary looking at the plight of migrants in Calais and the work being done to help them. “There are stories that are not reported by the mainstream media,” says James. “Those are the stories of each individual: what’s made them risk everything to travel all this way? I think it’s a common misconception that migrants want to come to the UK purely to claim benefits. I wanted to explore that, and discover the real reasons for these migrants’ journeys.”
After raising the necessary funds through a successful Kickstarter campaign, James began to open up a dialogue with the Calais-based charities created to help the migrants. These charities offer practical assistance to migrants, helping with asylum applications, finding accommodation and securing basic necessities like food and water.
The first hurdle James encountered was the charities’ reluctance to speak to any filmmakers. “After our initial contact, it was clear that the charities were hugely sceptical of the media,” says James. “They believed they had been seriously misrepresented whenever they had been filmed, and were understandably wary of our intentions.”
James and his team spent weeks developing contacts and building relationships with the people who could give him access to the charities, and the migrants themselves. “Once they understood what kind of film we wanted to make and what our goals were, they were really accommodating,” he says.
The team’s arrival in Calais was eye-opening. “I don’t think any amount of pre-production could have prepared us for the severity of the issues they were dealing with,” says camera operator Josh Thomas. “The reality of the situation really hits you when you’re talking to a 16 year-old boy who’s travelled thousands of miles in treacherous conditions, to escape from the place where his whole family was murdered.”
The resulting film, Keep Well to the West, subsequently won ‘Best Documentary’ at York St. John University’s Film and TV Awards. A year later, James and Josh both work for Limehouse as Post Production Assistant and Assistant Producer, respectively. Reflecting on his experiences, Josh says: “The situation in Calais has clearly deteriorated – it’s a huge shame. When I see the news coverage now, I think about the stories behind each migrant’s journey.”
"I asked the men I spoke to in Calais why they wanted to go to the UK,” says James. “Along with wanting to make a better life for themselves and find sanctuary, nearly all of them gave me the same answer: they wanted to go to Oxford or Cambridge University. It's sad, knowing they most likely won't achieve those ambitions because of where they were born.”
You can watch Keep Well to the West here. (Access to YouTube required.)