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Documentary Here We Are details plight of British citizens in Belgium
As gaps remains on supermarket shelves and queues at petrol stations snake around the corner, the effects of Brexit are making themselves known like never before to the people living in the UK. British citizens abroad, however, are in a different place, beginning to reconcile their feeling of abandonment by their homeland with their chosen lives lived elsewhere in the EU.
It’s an interesting time to hear from the British in Belgium, when they are less worried about their rights, less preoccupied with administration and more able to reflect on how they have felt over the last five years.
That’s what the documentary Here We Are is all about. Shot last spring on a tiny budget, it brings together stories of a diverse cross-section of British people living in Brussels, Antwerp and on the coast of Belgium. The short film will be screened at the Full Circle House in Ixelles on 16 October.
“Mine is a typical expat story,” says Anny Tubbs, who directed Here We Are. “I first came to Brussels for three months in the summer of 1995, having grown up in France with a British father and a German mother.”
Here We Are features British citizens living in Brussels, Antwerp and De Panne
Her law firm sent her to Brussels, to her disappointment. “I was much more interested in Tokyo or New York, so I was not impressed.”
But, she says with a smile, “of course they were right, Brussels was a good fit. I met my husband in those three months and ended up qualifying as a competition lawyer and started to practise in the Brussels office.”
Tubbs and her family, which would come to include three children, stayed for 20 years until her job took them to London in 2015. “Then Brexit happened, and we decided to move home to Brussels.” She pauses. “Because we are European.”
That was two years ago. Her two eldest children stayed in London, one is working and one is studying. “But as far as I’m concerned, I was keen to come back and contribute to the European project.”
‘A powerful medium’
The big decisions just kept coming, as Tubbs gave up a 25-year career in law to study journalism and documentary filmmaking at VUB. She’d always been fascinated by how documentaries can be a force of change, she says.
“To me, it’s complementary to what I was doing before. I think it offers ways to shine a light on situations and contradictions and somehow try to help reconcile issues or accelerate the rate of positive change.”
She founded First Move Productions and immediately made the documentary Trapped by Plastic, about photographer Mandy Barker whose work highlights the impact of marine plastic pollution. “I just think that film can be such a powerful medium to kick off important conversations.”
Towards the end of last year, she joined the Facebook group Brexit and the Belgian Brits, or Babbs. Having made her first documentary, she began to think of a project featuring members of the group as her second.
Such a film could help her comrades, thought Tubbs, to voice their feelings and concerns, “and to help create a new sense of community when many of us were feeling rejected and hurt. There was dissonance when before there had been more harmony in how we reconciled our different identities.”
Babbs founders Emma Woodford (left) and Louise Ham Sheppard
So she posed the question to the group: What did they think of a short film about the impact of Brexit on British citizens living in Belgium, the heart of the European Union?
The response was enormous; the very next day, 10 people got together for a digital meeting. A crowdfunding campaign was launched, and it reached its goal of €10,000.
Tubbs shot Here We Are over a few days last spring. “To some extent the emotional peak had passed,” she says. “But we’re still processing what happened and what this means to us, now and in the future. And that’s what we capture. I think we do it gently, we do it respectfully. And hopefully there’s food for thought. And even scope for optimism on what we can contribute as Europeans.”
The film will screen at 18.00 on 16 October and be followed by a panel discussion that includes Tubbs and Fiona Godfrey of British in Europe – a post-Brexit lobbying organisation that is about to end its tenure.
“Brexit and its consequences are far from over,” says Tubbs, “Here We Are is a good start; hopefully others will watch it and understand some of the issues that we’re confronted with and, indeed, find a way to have a conversation that’s far removed from the rhetoric. One that allows us to explore constructively how we move forward.”