It's a story we're becoming all too familiar with: local residents in Western democracies feeling threatened by immigration and turning to right-wing extremists as the answer. But you rarely get as intimate and fascinating an account as the one in The Battle For Barking.
The film tells the story of one race in one constituency during Britain's federal election last year. Barking is in East London, an area that has seen lots of recent immigration and resulting tensions. In 2005, that meant a 17% vote for the racist British National Party, enough for the party's leader, Nick Griffin, to pick Barking as his best chance to win a seat in 2010. As he takes on long-time Labour MP Margaret Hodge, director Laura Fairrie is there to follow both campaigns as they head out into the neighbourhood to battle for votes.
And it is a battle. The BNP spark outrage everywhere they go. Within the first few minutes of the film, they're already being shouted at on the street. There are multiple scenes of them being screamed at, denounced as Nazis or even spit on. And they give as good as they get: at one point a BNP councillor starts a fistfight in the street when someone launches a wad of saliva in his direction.
But despite the violence and the remarkable access to the campaigns, many of the film's most powerful moments are the quiet ones, when Fairrie stops and talks to the constituents themselves — particularly the BNP supporters. Nick Griffin is an easy and deserving villain, but seems more a symptom than a cause. Instead, the least conspicuous scenes are the ones that come closest to uncovering the root of the problem, and the source of the vile hatred his party spews. A mother in public housing crying as she explains how she feels her family has been passed over for opportunities in favour of more recent arrivals. Or the charming old man who claims not to believe in the BNP's policies, but also says, "This is my country — it's our country — and at the end of day they're giving it away," before cheerfully casting his ballot.
Photo: Nick Griffin in a still from The Battle For Barking
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Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.