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'Between Promise and Unrest' awarded Irish Film Board completion funding

Following funding from the Irish film Board (IFB) for their film Here To Stay (2006), recently screened at the Guth Gafa Documentary Film festival, Donegal and Human Rights Nights, Bologna, Alan Grossman and Aine O’Brien have received further completion funding from the IFB for a second observational documentary in a trilogy of films on the subject of civic participation and the expression of migrant political agency.

Between Promise and Unrest narrates the compelling stories of Filipina caregiver, Noemi Barredo and trade union migrant activist, Anton McCabe, both of whom inhabit worlds that are global in their daily reach, while decidedly local in their respective commitment to equality in the work place. For Noemi, the everyday demands of her domestic labour are set against the responsibilities she faces as a long-distance mother and caregiver in an Irish home; for Anton, the exploitation of migrant workers across different sectors by unscrupulous employers engenders a passionate engagement with workers’ rights, especially those in ‘low-skilled’ jobs such as Noemi’s. Shot over a two-year period (2004-6), drawing on over a hundred hours of rich verité footage in both the Philippines and Ireland, the film paints a dynamic and complementary portrait of two different and extremely driven characters, whose actions and voice-over drive the narrative throughout, equally impressive in their devotion, whether to maintaining a livelihood for an extended family in the Philippines or to campaigning for legal justice for migrant workers in Ireland.

The film offers a sustained exploration of what it means to be a non-EU economic migrant in Ireland in possession of a temporary work permit, specifically privileging the perspective of subjects surviving in conditions of vulnerability. Noemi’s delicate negotiation of the dual world she inhabits is juxtaposed in the film: her engagement with fellow female domestic workers in a ‘Domestic Workers Forum’ or on a ‘Manual Handling’ course for the elderly, which she takes to safeguard her future employment prospects, is contrasted with everyday family life in her hometown of Babatngon, where Noemi’s relations with her children, siblings and parents are observed. Dublin may be a long way from Babatgnon, yet Noemi retains a sharp eye on the welfare of her family, attentive to a range of small businesses she has financed, such as her mother’s sari sari shop and a taxi company run by her brothers, paying for the education of her daughter and son, medication for her terminally ill father and her sister’s nursing degree. The film depicts the expanding material outcomes of Noemi’s weekly remittance payments, together with her business plans for when she returns.

In Dublin, the filmmakers observe Noemi’s participation in a monthly ‘Migrant Forum’, where she learns from Anton – and indeed questions – the benefits of trade union membership in Ireland. Her anxieties as a non-EU work permit holder, following accession of new member states in 2004, are powerfully voiced in this context. The ‘Forum’ provides a dynamic setting within the film, since here we witness migrant workers, not as passive victims with little or no agency to intervene, but passionately voicing their anger at a work permit system analogous to ‘bonded labour’.

Running in parallel is the story of Anton, constantly on the move with mobile in hand, accumulating case after case, mediating between migrant workers in the construction, mushroom, meat and catering industries, and employers, immigration departments and the media. The film follows Anton’s advocacy of three South African meat workers trafficked into Ireland by an industry preoccupied with the short-term gains of cheap labour from outside the EU. Anton helps to regularise the status of these workers, stranded by their Irish employer and ‘undocumented’ through no fault of their own, offering dignity and security to them and their families. The speed, volume and intensity of Anton’s work, indicative of the prevailing ‘messiness’ and selective exploitation of migrant workers in the low-skilled economy, is reflected in the hand-held close-up camera style adopted of necessity in sections of the film.

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