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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sans papiers. Un grand écran pour sortir de l’ombre

by Marie Barbier

Undocumented Workers: Out of the Shadows and Onto the Silver Screen.

Translated Sunday 28 February 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

From Jaques Audiard to Isabelle Adjani, 350 film personalities have signed a “film manifesto” in favor of the legalization of undocumented workers. The goal is greater visibility for this struggle, which has been going on for four months.

This is a short and effective political film. In three and a half minutes, “On bosse ici ! On vit ici ! On reste ici !” [“We work here! We live here! We’re staying here!"] outlines a forgotten struggle : that of the 6,000 male and female workers who have been on strike since October 12, 2009, in order to obtain a ministerial circular of legalization. The government and the vast majority of the media, except for l’Humanité, have ignored this struggle, although it is a first in French history. This silence gave rise to the project realized by the Collectif des cinéastes pour les sans-papiers [Collective of filmmakers for the undocumented workers]. “The idea came when we shared a twelfth-night cake [with undocumented workers],” said Jean-Henri Roger, a filmmaker and cinema teacher at the Paris-VIII university. “Despite the presence of many personalities at the occupied premises in the rue du Regard, we got twelve lines in Le Monde and five in Libération...”

The Short Film Will Be Released on March 10.

At the beginning of February, filmmakers, actors, politicians and scientists signed the appeal “We take them under our protection” (See the Feb. 18 edition of l’Humanité) to back the strikers in the rue du Regard, who are threatened with eviction. “The idea of the film fired our imaginations,” said filmmaker Laurent Cantet. “In a short time, we had reactivated our network.” The network includes prestigious names in the Seventh Art [the cinema]: Isabelle Adjani, Jacques Audiard, Abderrahmane Sissako, Dominique Blanc, Romain Goupil, Cédric Klapisch and Riad Sattouf. Some had already participated in making the 1997 film “Nous, sans-papiers de France” [“We, the undocumented workers of France]. Others joined the movement in 2007 for “Laissez-les grandir ici” [“Let them grow up here”]. This time, no fewer than 350 filmmakers signed the appeal in a matter of days.

“We wanted to make this film as quickly as possible,” pointed our the filmmaker Christophe Ruggia. “To be in time for the regional elections and to weigh in in the public debate in order to bring the undocumented workers out of the shadows in which they have been plunged for the past four months.” The short film, which will be released in over 500 cinemas across France on March 10, is already available on the Internet. Facing the camera, the strikers reveal the reality of a hypocritical system: One worked to renovate the French National Assembly, another the AXA skyscraper in the La Défense business district in Paris, while a seamstress has worked for “Etam, Naf-Naf, Camaïeu…”

Not one sector of the French economy comes out unscratched in this litany of the companies that hire undocumented workers. And, the strikers point out, they know perfectly well what they are doing, because their undocumented status permits their employers to exploit them mercilessly. “When you say: ‘Hey, boss! This is asbestos,’ he answers: ‘If you won’t work, go to hell.’” The undocumented workers, who are paid a pittance, are not however unknown to the Finance Ministry, which collects dues and taxes... In three minutes, the filmmakers have succeeded in recording the sadness, the anger, and the determination of these men and women who are fighting for much more than just a residence permit. And the filmmaker Michel Andrieu pointed out that in the context of a “virulent debate on [French] national identity,” this film is an “indispensable firewall.”

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