Michael Winterbottom

In This World

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

After chronicling the rise and fall of Factory Records in "24 Hour Party People", Michael Winterbottom's eclectic filmmaking career takes another surprising turn with "In This World", his award-winning drama about two Afghan refugees' harrowing search for a better life in the West.

Were there specific incidents that inspired this film?

My starting point was the news story about the 58 Chinese immigrants found suffocated in a container at Dover. Also, in the run up to the last election, you had politicians saying more and more hostile things about asylum seekers and immigrants in general. It seemed that if you could go on that journey with them, perhaps by the time they got to this country you'd be rooting for them and wanting them to be here.

Were you also excited by the challenge?

I love road movies, and having done "24 Hour Party People" on DV, it seemed that technology combined with a very long road would give you a slightly new perspective on the genre. We basically got in a pick-up truck in Peshawar and filmed the whole thing from there to England. In the shooting of it, you were able to record the journey in a much more observational way than would been possible if we'd have used film.

You were once a Labour activist. Was there an element of wanting to get back into the political arena?

No, although initially the idea was to make an agitprop film. So, we had a lot of facts and figures and slogans around it to try and make people move in and out of the story, and gradually they disappeared in the editing process. But it would still be nice to think that if people watched the film or read about it, it would include the broader issues as well as the particular story.

Did you face hostility on the road, given that you were travelling after September 11th?

We went into Iran, which was described by [George] Bush at the time as the 'axis of evil', and everyone we met was incredibly friendly. Everyone was very pro-West in the sense of wanting to be integrated into the world economy. The Iranians were actually incredibly frustrated by the fact that this was going to set back their attempts to rebuild links with other countries. It's just the ludicrousness of the way in which the political and military struggle shapes people's perspective on countries.