Anyone who watches director Sonita Gale’s perceptive documentary and doesn’t develop a sense of outrage probably isn’t the film’s target audience. Hostile is undoubtedly an apt title – but cruel or brutal would have been equally appropriate. It’s Britain’s impenetrable and nightmarish immigration system that’s firmly in the firing line, with migrants struggling to formalise their position in their chosen home within an administrative architecture that has been constructed to be hostile to their plight. They’re being set up to fail, as their intended failure has been built right into the process, and not all that inconspicuously either.
It’s a concise piece of work, managing to say a lot in just over 90 minutes. There’s the odd moment where it feels like Gale has bitten off more than she can chew, as the documentary briskly swivels from migrant community kitchens under constant threat of eviction as they struggle to provide meals to students and NHS workers during the pandemic, to the Windrush scandal, to a succession of Prime Ministers using crisp rhetoric as they fortify and further complicate already complicated arrangements. But it ultimately comes together with a clear, logical flow – with instructive results.
The sheer surrealism of the system comes under interesting scrutiny, with migrants who have lived in England for years (and had children in the country, who are also under constant threat of deportation) being unable to work, or severely restricted in their earning capacity, while being forced to haemorrhage money as they make application after application, appeal after appeal, for their right to remain. It seems that the hostile environment is extremely lucrative. The word Kafkaesque is used, with great accuracy.
The documentary could easily have been a post-mortem for the collective dreams of immigrant society in Britain, with inclusivity having long since become exclusivity. However, it seems Gale has been extremely selective with the overall tone so that a sense of hopefulness still exists (even though it’s on life support and may not survive). This at least prevents the film from retreating into despair, as many of its subjects (understandably) seem to be. There’s a simmering sense of rage throughout, and if Hostile changes anyone’s indifference or ignorance to indignation, then its mission has been accomplished. This is powerful stuff, conveyed with a commendable calmness.
Hostile is released in select cinemas on 21st January 2022.
Watch the trailer for Hostile here: