Anna Konik’s tremendous documentary Silence Heard Loud forces us into the mindset of seven refugee’s as they recount their tragic pasts. Riveting throughout this is as humanising a film as you will come across this year.
Seven individuals, Angela, Janahan, Merwa, Michael, Mohamed, Nirmala and Selama, have striking and tragic stories to tell about their lives of escaping war, terrorism, ethnic hatred, persecution and domestic violence. They have come from far and wide to immigrate to the UK, hoping to find a better, more fruitful life, but have they found what they have dreamed of on these shores?
People leave their countries for a multitude of reasons, each as valid as the next, but their experiences in their homeland, journey here and then their lives in the UK, or France etc., wherever they settle for is vastly different. In Anna Konik’s documentary Silence Heard Loud, we get to hear, understand and contemplate what is told of these experiences, and it is riveting as it is stark.
Opening the documentary, we listen to some horrible examples of what people in detention centres have gone through, and it sets the tone perfectly. This is not going to be a fluff piece about how great the UK’s immigration system is and how easy it is for people who come here to adjust. No, we are presented with an important look at what the reality is for most immigrants. Right off the bat, we hear how the subjects reached the UK, and then slowly how their hope for a better life than the ones with rebels and being held at gunpoint would bring.
However, they are confronted with something they are not prepared for, xenophobia, the laws of our country, which can leave those barely 16 or 17 stuck in a no man’s land situation. They have not been deemed as children and do not have the protections that brings, so they are stuck, so young, in a perilous limbo. Some have siblings taken away as they were the sole provider; one had an arrangement but didn’t get to live in the actual house, but the garage. It is all rather grim and alerts you to the fact about how many young people or even adults are pushed into these situations in search of refuge.
There is a line towards the back end of Silence Heard Loud that has one of our individuals talk about how stealing food in the UK is a crime, yet in other countries that this person has lived in, it was not. So at first, you think, of course, it is a crime, but then he breaks it down; people who generally steal food are not doing so on a whim. They are doing it because they are hungry; they are taking that food, even food left behind or thrown out because they need it to survive. So he classes it as an inhumane way of living, and you may agree or disagree with that statement.
Yet in the current situation here in the UK, where more and more people are queuing for food banks and scraping by with what little they have. You begin to really take thought about not just what the government has been doing to help those disadvantaged, immigrants or even those who have fallen on bad times, but you. Are we judging people too harshly because we think we are above it all now? Have we lost a bit of our humanity towards the plight of others?
Rather interestingly, Konik and editor Agnieszka Kowalczyk allow for alternative opinions throughout the film. For example, when one subject talks about how they still feel they are detained and restricted by the Home Office after being in detainment, another will be slid in to say how being here has freed them in some ways to be more of who they wanted to be sexually. It highlights that not every immigrant that comes to a country has the same experiences, and with just a sample of seven people here, we can see how different their time so far in the UK has been.
You could easily sink in and discuss every point and example made in Silence Heard Loud for an age; that is how broad Konik has conveyed her film. She has given us snippets of what these people have experienced and allowed us to ponder about it. We come across themes such as alienation, racism, loneliness and endless asylum procedures that limit their short and long term futures. As we switch back between each person as they reveal more about their experiences, a heaviness hits you.
Could each person get their own documentary with the information they have to share? Absolutely, but to present us so succinctly with what we have here makes their pain and struggles even more effective. We are not just seeing one person’s journey, but many, and it hurts to see what these people have gone through, just to get to where they are now in their lives. By keeping these moments short, they almost stay with you longer, only then to be given another torrent of difficulties briefly after by another of the seven.
There are small touches that Konik has integrated into her film that work marvellously; we are not just given talking heads. Instead, we have the subjects sitting but rarely talking to the camera, as it cuts away to something else, be it a train or bus moving, shots in parks or swimming pools. We are gathering their stories while on the move like they were. It leads to you being pulled gently into the documentary without realising it as Józefina Gocman Dicks calm cinematography works on you, never rushing, yet seemingly always searching. Much like our subjects, they are trying to find their place, years after they arrived at a country that should now be their home, unsure of what their future holds; we can only hope for something positive for them.
Silence Heard Loud opens the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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