Brexit matters: review of indie documentary Brexitannia


Dir: Timothy George Kelly

A man standing in a paddock with a flock of sheep behind him says, "my heart said leave, my head said stay". A young woman in front of a housing commission high rise building says, "I voted leave. I support UKIP".  These are simple statements and yet so intimate, real people on their home turf, telling us how they voted and why.

Brexitannia is a searching exploration of the opinions, the issues, and above all else, the people behind the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union.

The images are striking, journalistic in their monochrome palette. The stylistic choices that the director, Timothy George Kelly, has made have worked together to create something that feels like it might be a commercial for tissues or football or some other thing that almost anyone can relate to, a universal need. The fact that it looks like an advertisement isn't a distraction and it isn't an accident; it's the whole conceit of the film that it is willing to let vox populi speak for itself.  This is every person.

The composition of each frame is carefully constructed to place the subject in context. There is always plenty of space around the person and they are often outdoors. You are hearing from someone who is both literally and metaphorically connected to England or Wales or Scotland or Ireland. The ideas they are espousing aren't abstract. They are ideas that grow out of who they are and where they are.

The voice of the people about Brexit in indie documentary film Brexitannia

Brexit matters. It matters for each of the people in the film, even if they claim that it doesn't.

Kelly's decision to let people simply speak for themselves allows each person to reveal something that they might not otherwise have revealed. It's clear that his interviewing technique involves plenty of awkward silences. He asks a question and hears the answer and then waits for more. And more.

The man on the street in indie film Brexitannia

In many cases, it feels like this might be the first time some of the subjects have ever voiced this particular point of view. It's almost like they are discovering something about themselves that they never knew.

In other instances, it feels like the person speaking is repeating something that they have said to hundreds of people over the last twelve months. It's an opinion that has come to represent who they are themselves and their place in the world. If they changed their mind then they would be somehow diminished.

The first two-thirds of the film is given over to "The People". Then there is a beautiful video-art piece before "The Experts" are invited to give their educated opinions on Brexit. This video-art is as creative and moving as the previous part of the film. Look out for the cucumber that introduces the segment and that references the woman early in the film that knew the EU had gone too far when it mandated that only regulation shaped cucumbers could be sold in supermarkets in England.

the brexit cucumber in indie documentary Brexitannia

After the video-art, the experts get to have their say. It's an amazing smorgasbord of academics and thinkers that Kelly provides for us. This is fine and they each share solid insights from their particular fields but I don't think there is anything there that I hadn't heard before. The views of the people are what really make this documentary something special.

There are many reasons to watch Brexitannia: the stunning unity of vision of the director, the revealing words of a diverse cross-section of ordinary Britons, to hear from experts such as Noam Chomsky and Heidi Mirza or simply to understand more about one of the most momentous votes in the UK's history.

Brexitannia is appearing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Follow Brexitannia on Twitter.