Ghosts (15)

Directed by Nick Broomfield
Showing at FACT from 27th Febuary - 4th March, 2007

Reviewed by Darren Guy

'Ghosts' is the name Chinese immigrants give to the English – but in reality it probably better describes the 3 million migrants workers who drift through the underbelly of Britain, working like slaves in industries no-one wants to work in, doing the jobs no-one wants to do, renting houses no-one wants to live in and being paid wages hardly any British person would accept. In the meantime providing extremely lucrative profits to the already wealthy.

Nick Broomfield, director of ‘Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer ’, takes on his second feature film and produces what is a powerful, sensitive and incredibly moving portrayal of the events leading up to the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay.

The film follows the journey of Ai Qin, a proud single mother from Fujian province, China. In a desperate attempt to create a better life for her son and family, she borrows $25,000 and pays a Snakehead gang to smuggle her to the UK. Ai Qin takes a gruelling journey overland from China across Eastern and then Western Europe in the back of trucks, hidden in claustrophobic vans (remember the 52 Chinese immigrants who suffocated to death) and eventually nailed inside a crate on a ship from Calais to Dover. Ai Qin arrives at a disused industrial park somewhere in London, where she meets Mr Yin (Zhan Yu) who promises her a job with good wages and somewhere nice to live. The film captures perfectly the confusion, fear and loneliness of a new arrival, reliant on the whims of those who know the ropes.

Ai Qin and a group of Chinese people she journeys with are ripped off at every turn: by landlords, running grimy overcrowded accommodation, and employment agencies, aware that they have no rights. Yet despite these encounters they still maintain their humanity and a sense of solidarity with each other. Their dreams of earning enough money to make their families' lives better and pay off the loan sharks are whittled away, and Ai Qin and her best friend Li (Zhe Wei) still indebted to their Snakeheads become increasingly homesick. Ai Qin is tormented by the idea that she has deserted her son and that the longer she is away the more likely he will forget her.

Their house in Thetford, Norfolk is raided by police; they are forced to go north to Morecambe with promises of better housing and better pay. But their situation gets worse. In one shocking episode in the wind and rain on the beach they are attacked and beaten up by the British cockle pickers, their sacks of cockles stolen from them. It couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to be British. In fear that the same men will kill them the Chinese cockle pickers decide to go cockling at night. The rest is history.

Nick Broomfield has brought together a cast of former illegal immigrants, and the stories around their journey are told in this film. Nick Broomfield and cast have produced a stunning film, wonderfully shot, especially the beach shots, well scripted and acted. For those who love Ken Loach films this is a must.

The showing of the film and the debate that followed was co-ordinated by Claire Bullen from Kensington regeneration and Merseyside Regional Chinese Association (MRCA). Some of the cocklers at Morecambe were living in slums in Kenny at the time of the tragedy. Furthermore many of Kenny’s migrant residents are facing similar problems - open hostility, and even racial attacks from some local residents. The excellent debate was chaired by Roger Phillips from Radio Merseyside. There were a number of good contributions, many from people who had been illegal immigrants themselves. Some of the Kensington’s more prominent community members were also in attendance, including many from the Chinese Community.

Sadly many of the families of the 23 dead cockle pickers are still in debt to the Snakeheads.
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