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Moving tale of how Chinese migrants met their fate

PUBLISHED: 11:07 12 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 07 September 2010

Ghosts (15) Directed by Nick Broomfield. Starring Al Qin Lin, Zhan Yu, Zhe Wei, Man Qin Wei, Yong Aing Zhai. 96 mins Three-star rating It seems to be the week for documentary directors turning to drama. After 40 years of documentary film-making, Nick Bro

Ghosts (15) Directed by Nick Broomfield. Starring Al Qin Lin, Zhan Yu, Zhe Wei, Man Qin Wei, Yong Aing Zhai. 96 mins

Three-star rating

It seems to be the week for documentary directors turning to drama. After 40 years of documentary film-making, Nick Broomfield has made a dramatic movie. And in doing so he has probably gone a long way to restoring his credibility as a serious, committed film-maker.

Going in knowing only that this was his attempt to cover the death of 23 Chinese migrant workers while cockling in Morecambe Bay in 2004, I had horrible visions of him bumbling around Morecambe in his standard man-in-shot-holding-the-boom-mike mode.

Instead he plays it absolutely straight - he seems to have come up with his own version of the Dogma 95 vow of chastity.

The result is a film that's simple, insightful, informative and ultimately very moving. I was expecting a dutifully bad time but the situation and the characters grab you in a way that is beyond worthy.

Ghosts stands as a companion piece to Michael Winterbottom's In This World. While that film concentrated on migrants' epic journey from one side of the world to the other, Broomfield has to dispense with that in a few minutes and concentrates on Ai Qin. She plays an impoverished mother from the Sichuan province, and her experiences in Britain as she moves between a series of underpaid jobs (chicken packing, fruit picking) that see her end up on that Morecambe beach.

Broomfield's reputation has taken a pummelling in the last decade. His style has been too widely imitated. He did the adverts for Audi and embarked on too many celebrity orientated wild goose chases after Kurt and Courtney and Biggie and Tupac and Heidi Fleiss. Ghosts brings him back to subjects that matter. And the matters are large and seemingly insoluble.

Ghosts does a fine job of showing how fantastically grim the migrant experience in Britain is and you'd think maybe it could be shown around the world as the opposite of a tourist board promotion film. Yet even on the pitiful wages they receive here, migrant workers

are still able to send significant sums back to

their families.

To make the trip, the victims all borrowed large sums of money, $25,000, from what the film suggest are unscrupulous money lenders. At the end a caption tells us that the families of the 23 people that died are still being forced to repay the loans, which is obviously inhuman. But the subsequent suggestion that we should send donations to help seems fundamentally flawed - a reward for exploitation.

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