It's all part of the same thing. The Jaffna tamil dancer we used for this project has just rung me. She wants to go back to Sri Lanka, to see her lost home one last time. She is frightened that after The Swimmer is released going back will be impossible. It is difficult to know how to advise her. On the one hand, none of the team think she will be recognized in the film. We have been careful not to name her or even show her face too clearly on screen. On the other hand, there remains a steady leak of reports still emerging from Sri Lanka. Human rights issues have still not been addressed, the truth is still being doctored, and those who speak out against the government are still in danger of being silenced, or of disappearing. And the tamil dancer has two children, and a husband. She is young, with her whole life ahead of her. Were anything to happen to her we would feel morally responsible. So we tell her: 'Don't go, give up. Your life is here, now. Why risk it?'
I look at the film footage of the silvery Aldeburgh coastline at dawn, but in reality I am thinking of our dancer, this thing we call home and the strength that exists in the concept of it. In my last film, at some point, an old woman recalls:
They thought there could be nothing worse, that it would never happen again. To leave your hearth and all its warmth. Hearth is like heart. It is the centre of everything.
I made that particular film in 2008. It was about the Highland Clearances but the words could just as easily apply to our dancer's feeling. She longs to see her home again, to see the red dusty road that leads back to her childhood and her heart. She wants to smell again the fragrance of the air and hear the sound of another, brighter sea. Why cannot she do this simple thing, without fear?
An astronomer calls this our last century. There are shadows all over the world, some caused by natural disasters, but most created by men. In Lampedusa, off the coast of Italy, people are arriving everyday by boat, and the Italians are frightened, as are the French. In the Middle East there comes an Arab Spring and all the consequences these changes will bring. While on the Ivory Coast, darkness has been drawing in for some time. And then of course there are all the old oppressions, which like radiation, look set for a thousand years. So Sri Lanka and what it has done to its human minority does not feature very high in the scale of things. A few hundred thousand people dead and buried, forgotten amongst the ashes, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of economic growth.
'Forget it,' we tell our dancer.
There is a whole generation of young Sri Lankans growing up at home and abroad that has managed to do so. Why can't you? But even as I think it, I know the answer. Because our dancer is a different sort of person from those who wish to erase all unpleasant memory. Because she has a first-hand memory of her very own. Because she possesses a rare and old fashioned ingredient, embedded in her character. Empathy, I think it's called, isn't it? That most sacred of human characteristics. Empathy for the dispossessed. Those that have it are blessed by the Gods.
At last! I have found the film clip I had been looking for and I watch it now on my computer screen. An endless turning and sighing of the North Sea.