Apparently the Cricklewood Bingo hall is "a sort of religious cathedral".
I last spoke to Marc Isaacs about his documentary All White In Barking, which explored Barking residents' attitudes towards their immigrant neighbours. Now Marc's revisiting London immigrants in his new film The Road: A Story of Life And Death, which introduces a bunch of people living on and around the Edgware Road in London. Part of the A5, Edgware Road morphs every few minutes, it begins in cosy suburbia, suffering the mundanity of Colindale and Cricklewood, there's the swanky stretch of Maida Vale and then the hookah-lined Middle Eastern section which hits Hyde Park.
In the documentary Marc spends time with Iqbal from Kashmir who works as a hotel concierge; 95-year-old Peggy who fled Hitler's Vienna; Billy, an Irish ex-construction worker losing himself to alcohol; and retired air-hostess Brigiite who runs a hotel for foreign students. I phoned Marc to discuss his film, and why Cricklewood Bingo Hall might be the loneliest place in London.
VICE: What compelled you to make The Road?
Marc Isaacs: Initially I had this very vague idea around the Olympics – all these different nationalities were coming over here, yet there were all these people that live here already, people from those countries who are part of our lives every day. That led to looking near where I live. I wanted to make a film in London about people who had come from outside, and the A5 is full of people from everywhere.
What is it about London's immigrants that interests you?
There are themes in the film about events repeating themselves, like the Eastern European workers today waiting on the road where the Irish used to wait before. I wanted a broad perspective on that sense of transiency in people's minds about not being able to go home, yet not always fitting in over here. That felt quite interesting as a psychological and cinematic space.
And Edgware Road is like a geographical embodiment of that weirdness, especially the Middle Eastern part?
Yeah, it's quite a closed world. It's transient too because people come over from the Middle East when it's really hot out there, or for medical treatment, and they're just here for a few weeks and then they disappear. I met one of the guys who owns a lot of the Lebanese restaurants, but he just wasn't open enough as a character for me to work with. We did spend quite a lot of time down there though.
Where there any other great characters who refused to be filmed?
There was a Cameroonian taxi driver who was actually a sort of king back in Cameroon and lives as a polygamist over here. It wasn't possible to go further with him.
His wives wanted to keep it all private. There was no way they'd have us involved, they didn't want to be exposed on television and in the cinema. Wasn't gonna happen.
Fair enough. Some of the footage you've got is pretty disturbing, Billy's alcoholism, for example.
I thought it was really important to show his life and how he is, not to shy away from that. Filming that was really difficult, and of course it's personal, but it's also a situation that, to an extent, has risen though him not working any more and being isolated from his family. He's not an educated man, he's depended on his work for everything, too much really. It was his social life too, and it's disappeared.
Another of the characters, Iqbal, is credited as a writer on the film, how did you meet him?
He wrote a really lovely book about London called Sorrows Of The Moon where he goes around on his bike talking to other immigrants. It's a really lovely piece of work. I read it and thought he could be really interesting to talk to, because I wanted some narration and I'm not naturally a writer. He's very thoughtful and articulate, and he's aware of his own situation in a way that the other characters aren't so much.
A lot of what he says is very poignant.
Absolutely, it really struck me what he said about losing your home twice, once when you've burnt bridges and have to leave your country, then again when you realise this new place is not what you hoped it would be. I found that really profound, and it relates to everybody.
What is it about your characters' struggles that you wanted to capture?
I tried to universalise them in a way, their relationships or separation, and also the sense that they're in this in-between state, they haven't really found their sense of home. And what I was trying to do was relate that to all of us, because we all strive to have this oneness with the world which we're never gonna get. All of our lives are transient to a certain extent. And looking at that idea through these immigrant lives was quite interesting because I think their struggles and the things they're dealing with are relevant to all of us.
Finally, why did you film at the Cricklewood Bingo Hall?
It's a place where a lot of lonely people go and feel like they're part of a community, but it does have this air of desperation about it. It's a striking place anyway because of the size, it's huge. There's the promise of winning, but I don't think that's really why people go. People definitely go there to find some sense of company, to escape, to forget things in their lives. It feels like a sort of religious cathedral for people who don't have anything else.
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