IN THIS WORLD directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Tony Grisoni, produced by Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland, with Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah and Imran Paracha. 88 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (March 5). For revue, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 80. Rating: NNNN
Berlin - with a resumé that runs from 24 Hour Party People to Welcome To Sarajevo, Michael Winterbottom can't easily be pinned down. If there's anything that links the 10 features he's made in 10 years, it's an excitable interest in the marks places leave on people. Winterbottom's characters aren't so much rooted in their social reality as they are composed of it, cell by cell.
His latest tells the story of two Pashtun refugees on an odyssey from Pakistan to London. The locale may be new for him, but the approach is signature.
At Berlin's 2003 film festival, Winterbottom talked about scouting refugee camps in Peshawar with the passion and ease of a pub geezer rattling on about Man United.
"Yeah, obviously," he said in his New Britain accent, "I'd love my films to change the world." Days later, In This World won Berlin's top-prize Golden Bear. It's a start.
Though it's made with Winterbottom's usual craft, In This World has the urgent feel of political art.
"There is an increasing hostility to any immigrants to Europe," he says. "Even if these people are economic migrants rather than refugees, what's wrong with that?"
That's a radical view in the current climate, but radical views can find screen time thanks to cheap, fast digital video. Using non-actors and shooting on the road from Asia to Europe, Winterbottom depended on DV.
"You could really record the journey," he says. "Every morning we would get up and turn the DV camera on and shoot for eight hours." Shooting in Pakistan and Iran, they told authorities they were making a documentary on the Silk Route.
But because he'd chosen to pluck his lead actors from an actual Peshawar refugee camp, Winterbottom found himself facing off-screen dilemmas that rivalled the message he was trying to deliver.
"At that time there were a million refugees in Pakistan, so there was no problem finding refugees. It was just trying to find two people who would survive the journey."
In the end he cast Jamal Udin Torabi as the boy and Enayatullah as his older cousin. Torabi was born in the refugee camp.
"At the end of the film we took both of them back to Peshawar, but Jamal made his way back to Britain."
Last year at Berlin, Winterbottom was still trying to sort out what to do when the star of his movie about a refugee who made it to Britain decided he wanted to stay for real. In general, though, he's for it.
"Anyone who makes a journey like this, anyone who tries to migrate, leaves a lot behind," he says. "No one lightly decides to leave their family, their friends and their culture. If people make that decision, you should respect them."