No U-Turn ★★★ 1/2 – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

No U-Turn ★★★ 1/2 – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

Engaging from beginning to end, Ike Nnaebue’s No U-Turn details the journey that many West Africans take to get into Europe. We listen to moving stories from those trying to make the journey, showing the determination of those who feel they have no other options left to them.

As a young man, Ike Nnaebue tried to flee to Europe. Twenty years later, he retraces the steps of his journey back then to find out what motivates people today to expose themselves to the dangers of a passage into an uncertain future.

Migrating from one continent to another, into the unknown, is as risky a proposition as it comes for people. To do so from Africa and risk a lot more than just being sent back to where you came from. Some in Ike Nnaebue’s documentary No U-Turn are aware of the risks, but they would rather die trying than stay. That in itself is powerful enough before we even discover the dangers for these subjects and many others in No U-Turn. Would you be as keen to take on the same journey if you knew how likely it was that you could be kidnapped and sold for human trafficking?

When we consider migration, we take for granted the entire journey; we mostly focus on those say stuck in Calais making the treacherous trips by boat to the UK shores. Here in No U-turn, however, we discover that for those trying to get into mainland Europe, there is a lot more danger than a wild sea; rape, murder, and trafficking are all possible derailments for those making these journeys, and yet they still do it.

At the same time as trying to show us the dangers of the journey in No U-Turn, Nnaebue is trying to show us the good of West Africa, that although people are leaving, there are positives in where they reside. While a lot of the film has Nnaebue’s voice narrating and informing us. We become truly engaged when we hear from those currently on their own journey. The conversations feel more intimate and personal here and convey a power that merely documenting from a distance cannot match.

It is worth remembering in all of the chatter currently in the world about people immigrating, legally or illegally, to more prosperous countries that these people doing so are not just numbers, statistics to roll off when you want to prove a point. They are trying to get to these countries because they feel there is no other option left for them in their lives. It is not a whim but a desperate need. So when the next government official recants the numbers of people crossing a river to get to our shores.

Think, just for a second, that to them, there is no option two if this fails. Instead of judging, we should be understanding; Nnaebue does tremendous work in letting us see why people from Nigeria and West Africa are doing this, making his film about the people and the reasons; we can only wish them luck in that they can reach their dreams as safely as possible.

Ultimately, No U-Turn gives us more openness to why those who feel they need to leave their home country for Europe do so. They are risking everything to do so as Nnaebue did over 20 years earlier, while we could spend more time with those subjects trying to get to Europe, there is still more than enough here to be engaged with.

★★★ 1/2

All films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are screening at the Barbican, and available from 20-26 March to stream from the festival website.

Coverage from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023


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