The latest project from documentary filmmaker Richard Parry, 21 Miles, follows Tunisian migrant Kais during his 16-month stay in the infamous Calais Jungle camp. Chronicling his dreams of reaching his young son in England within the cramped and frequently volatile conditions, Parry’s feature succeeds in bringing viewers into the living and breathing microcosm of the Jungle through its shifting evolutions to its eventual closure, presented from the perspective of Kais and a handful of other subjects.
An eye-opening cinematic experience, the film brings viewers into the heart of the daily survival and desperation faced by those trapped in limbo, seeking a better life for themselves within a xenophobic political climate. Their companionships, hopes, rivalries and the dangers faced crossing the channel are captured on film for all to see.
Shot by Parry with basic equipment, the feature has no flashy effects or dramatised narratives fighting for our attention; there’s only what’s on-screen (with some text giving important information) and Parry’s own eye for filmmaking telling us everything we need to know. And by stripping back the artifice of cinema completely – going as far to leave in moments highlighting the production process – there’s no illusion about the verisimilitude or authenticity of the images being presented. Consequently, this only makes the impact of later events all the more effective.
The film’s triumph is undoubtedly its ability for capturing unfiltered life. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that it falters whenever using more traditional techniques like deploying music for atmosphere. The song used (Coldplay’s Daddy) is a little too on-the-nose, breaking the pacing and tone of the film to present something more akin to a pretentious music video. And considering that Coldplay’s manager and creative director are executive producers, these moments feel all the more manufactured.
A very small but nonetheless hugely impactful piece of cinema, 21 Miles is a heart-breaking portrayal of the consequences of atrocities and those caught up in them. It’s the story of one man trying to make the most out of a bad situation. And it’s a time capsule of the Calais Jungle. It’s disappointing, then, that this film is unlikely to get the attention it deserves.
21 Miles is released digitally on demand on 29th November 2019.
Watch the trailer for 21 Miles here: