Nick Broomfield is a filmmaker used to controversy and his newest film, recently released on DVD by Tartan Video is no exception. GHOSTS tells the story of Ai Qin Lin, a Chinese migrant who pays a large sum of money to have herself smuggled into the UK in order to find work to put her small child through school. After a harrowing journey Ai Qin quickly realizes that England is not the promised land, and is eventually “escorted” to a small dirty townhouse where she will live with 11 other Chinese migrant workers. From there the film follows her through one grueling job after another – in a duck processing factory, on a spring onion farm, and the last job 23 workers did before drowning off the coast at Morecambe Bay at night.
GHOSTS is a work of social realism: Broomfield hired non-actors, put them in real scenarios (such as the migrant house where all the performers lived for one month), and based the script and storyline on real events that have occurred recently in the UK. The film credits Guardian journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai's stories for inspiring this gritty, digitally shot narrative.
Broomfield has produced a masterpiece of understated cinema. GHOSTS is a documentary waiting to be born: it is fiction only insofar as scenes are recreated with some creative construction. The British filmmaker, who up until now has stuck with the documentary genre, has retraced the steps backward from the real-life 2004 tragedy of the 23 Chinese workers who – after being beaten and driven off the sands during the day by white English cocklers (a tiny shellfish) – returned in the evening only to misjudge the quickly moving tide and drowned. The families of the victims are still paying off their debts, totaling 500,000 pounds.
On the recently released DVD a 64-minute making-of featurette shows Broomfield, his crew and his “actors” actually being bullied and driven off the beach by white workers as they try to construct the scene that depicts the same events. As Broomfield puts it:
“Some actors are method actors, but in GHOSTS I bring the method to them, to the non-actors.”
GHOSTS is a film that has largely slipped under the radar in North America, and with this fabulous featurette added, the DVD is a compelling artifact of not only the genius of Nick Broomfield, but also of the process of making “fiction” as real as the first time it occurred.
To watch the trailer, find out how to order the film, or donate to the fund set up to pay off the workers' debts, visit the film's official site.