Yet another documentary that makes me ask, why didn’t we learn about this in school?

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll remember me harking on about how British civil rights movements are not taught in schools, about how we know far more about American civil rights and anti-racist movements than we do our own. That the need to erase the history of racism in the UK, has led to us erasing the history of anti-racism in the UK as well. Unlike the icons of the American civil rights era, many, many people would struggle to name one person who campaigned against racist laws and restrictions at the same time in Britain.

Idrish is one of those people. Muhammad Idrish was Bengali-born and came to England in the 70s on scholarship to uni. There he studied, got married, got a job, settled down. When he applied for indefinite leave to remain, the Home Office hummed and hawed, and dragged its feet for two and a half years, putting Idrish and his wife through a half-dozen repeated interviews. When his marriage hit a rough patch, unsurprising given the amount of stress they were under, he and his wife separated, and within a week, an immigration officer decides he should be deported. Like, they weren’t divorced, they hadn’t even been separated a full week, but this pig decides unilaterally that the marriage is over, and uses it as an excuse to punt him out the country. Like, if you were trying to reconcile your marriage before, you sure as hell aren’t going to be able to do it from the other side of the world.

Luckily at that time the trade unions were still strong, and they took up his case. And it was not easy. It was a long drawn out process, going through every court in the land. But people united to demonstrate against the bullshit racist policies and laws of this country. There were marches, rallies, leaflets, letters, petitions, and protests of every kind.

And when Idrish finally won his case, he used the knowledge and expertise he had gained to form anti-deportation activists into a group campaigning for others. He saw his injustice as just one case among many. He saw the need to keep fighting racist policies as a whole, for everyone.

I liked how the director used archival footage that was in a mix of colour and black-and-white, and also shot contemporary footage in a mix of colour and black-and-white. Because these stories are not over. Literally just at the weekend there was a protest in George Square against the newest raft of racist immigration policies. This story is not a history, it’s a map.

Really great short documentary, exactly what should be shown in schools.

We Know A Better Word Than Happy

We Know A Better Word Than Happy is a short documentary on kids playing in The Children’s Wood, on the North Kelvin Meadow, right here in Glasgow’s Maryhill. The Wood and the Meadow are activist-established community green spaces that have been running for years. The documentary lets kids describe in their own words what they get out of it.

I loved hearing the different weans’ voices. Some are breathy whispers about tree-climbing, some are shrieks about fighting a dragon. Some talk directly about liking not to be cooped up in the house all day, some just involve you directly in their games. My favourite was Kez, who is one of those weans who already have their auld man voice. One of those weans that if you asked them how they’re doing, they’d be like, “That paper route is bursting ma heid, Aunty Sandra”. I loved him.

I watched all these kids running around in their wellies, macs, and waterproof trousers, and just thought, my mum would have killed me if I had rolled around in the mud like that. I used to love climbing trees, back when I was too convinced of my own immortality to ever worry I might fall. I was pretty good at it too, and could sit up in the right high branches. It’s good to see kids have a chance to do that. As the film points out, the Children’s Wood sits in an area where about a quarter of folk have no access to a garden.

Really nice to see the work of the Wood and Meadow recognised, and for young yins to be given a voice to say for themselves how it impacts them.

The Tyranny of Petty Things

Really interesting short documentary on James Bushe, who fought for and won the right to become the first HIV positive commercial pilot.

When I saw the synopsis, I was thinking, so this will be looking back at his case in the 90s, right? 2020 this fucking happened. What?!

What the fuck would even be the justification for excluding HIV positive folk from being pilots? This is not a job where you would be regularly bleeding directly into other people’s open wounds or some crazy shit like that. You’re sitting in a chair, flying a plane. It obviously must predate the advent of medication that suppresses the virus, which basically means there is now absolutely no excuse for any of this bullshit.

The ludicrous reason, clearly put in place when HIV was discovered to be a thing but not yet understood as a condition at all, was that you might become unwell mid-flight. Like, what?! Anyone can become unwell mid-flight. Also, being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS. The whole thing is madness.

James is about ages with me, we grew up with the AIDS adverts of the 80s and early 90s. That shit was biblical. It literally had a guy chiselling a headstone with AIDS written across it. At the time, the message was ‘this is a fatal disease, don’t catch it or it will be a death sentence’. And looking back, I get that, I understand why they did it, but it ingrained such a level of fear in our generation that if you actually became HIV positive, it made you feel like you were some kind of living cancer. As James himself puts it, “I thought that I was this sort of walking grenade that was gonna go off”.

The stigma meant that people were frightened of HIV positive people, that employers had this disproportionate sense of risk in hiring folk, and also HIV positive folk themselves had internalised this sense of shame. And there have been many battles fought between then and now to undo that damage. Which is why you can’t believe that almost 40 years later, hangovers from that era are still in place, and these fights are still being fought.

The Tyranny of Petty Things looks at the stigma others placed on his condition, but also the internalised stigma that made him initially want to remain anonymous at the start of his campaign. A really interesting short documentary about the living legacy of AIDS discrimination in our society.

First Step Swim

A meditative, dialogueless, short film about a woman with a disability wild swimming in a loch. The title, First Step Swim is kind of a directive mantra, if you wanna do it, just do it, but also refers to the fact the woman is missing the lower part of her right leg. The film has a silent, introspective quality, which is less about laying on the line the director’s thoughts, and more about asking us to feel the experience of this woman, a film which is less about talking to its audience but about asking us to listen. Beautiful cinematography.

Go Home

Ooft! Powerful short film.

Go Home is about a burnt-out Polish Scot immigration officer doing a processing interview with a young Palestinian woman applying for asylum here. I loved this film for so many reasons.

First, it blows out the water the myth that ‘we don’t have racism here’ in Scotland. This is one we really like to tell ourselves. Scotland is a welcoming, progressive country, and racism is ‘an English thing’. It’s horseshit of course, but it is the refrain time and again, whenever you see a surge in the popularity of far-right parties, it’s always down south, as though that phenomenon stops at the border. As though the rise of the EDL didn’t inspire the formation of the SDL. And as though racism is only racism when the far-right do it, as though it isn’t part and parcel of our everyday lives, baked in to our society.

I loved how this film managed to be nuanced, avoid being reductive, while still making the structures and culture of racism clear. The staff of the immigration centre looks almost like a microcosm of that famed success of multicultural Scotland, all races, all religions, natives and migrants alike, all co-existing harmoniously, to manifest structural racism, to keep out foreigners, to keep Britain as white and Christian as possible.

The immigration officer, Amelia, has had enough. She’s had enough of the bullshit. She’s had enough of walking past ‘Us First’ posters. Had enough of Brexit and UKIP and the hostile environment. Had enough of trying to get the numbers down, finding any excuse to reject a claim, to send people back to their deaths. Although the first shots of the film are of Haya, the refugee, this is really Amelia’s story.

Joanna Kaczynska gives a really good performance, and makes Amelia sympathetic despite the fact she is set up to be the roadblock to this young Palestinian girl’s dreams of living in peace, getting an education, and building a safe future. I was just watching her and thinking, what you doing holding up this racist institution, just stop. And you’re fighting the logic of, what does that achieve, they’ll just hire someone else, but good, it won’t be you. You’ll not be part of this anymore. In a world where they control the capital, all you can do is withhold your labour. Just don’t fucking do it.

The theme Tiny Changes really applies to this film. It’s all about incremental change. How Amelia got to the end of her rope, the culture of xenophobia in this country, it came in a thousand small steps. It gets better the same way.