Cutting the Story of a Refugee: “In Another Life”

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

In Another Life is the first feature film by award winning director Jason Wingard. It tells the story of Adnan, a Syrian man trapped in the Calais ‘Jungle’, an infamous refugee camp in Northern France. Blending traditional drama with real settings, improvisation and non-actors the film aims to tell the story of the refugee crisis in Europe through the eyes of the refugees.

The film started when a small crew and a handful of actors went to Calais in summer 2015 with no script and a tiny budget. They spoke to the people in the camp and heard their stories, then shot improvised scenes based on them. The director then brought that footage back to the UK and worked on it with Assembly Editor, Pawel Pracz. Using these scenes as a spine, Jason wrote the story of Adnan’s journey through Turkey, across the Aegian Sea and into Europe and started to plan for a second shoot in May 2016 to film the remaining pieces he would need.

Refugees clash with police, in a fabricated version of the Jungle.

It was at this point that I came onboard the film as Editor. It was the strength of the story and its significance in the current political climate that drew me to the project. Whilst the crew embarked on 2 more weeks of shooting, I took up the task of becoming as familiar as possible with the script and the footage that had already been shot. Pawel had been working in Media Composer and I saw no reason to switch. I’ve used Avid for all but one of the feature films I have cut.

In August last year I finished the first cut of the film, working closely with Jason to make it as strong as we could. But neither of use were satisfied with what we had. The dramatic thread that had been added to the script was detracting, rather than adding to the story and so we made the tough decision to rewrite and restructure the film. Jason headed out for 12 more days in Calais in September, just before they tore down the ‘Jungle’, in order to reshoot a few key scenes and the majority of the final act of the film.

The DOP sets up to film a scene around a campfire with the cast.

Despite being a bold move, this felt like a very natural idea to us. In many ways, editing the project felt more like working on a documentary than a drama. The use of non-actors, improvised scenes and a non-linear narrative all meant that we were crafting a lot of the plot and character arcs in the edit, so going back to the script and aiming for something simpler and more elegant just felt like a natural progression of that.

When Jason returned we started working the new material into the film. Given that we were now behind schedule we only had a couple of months before the edit needed to be locked. The new scenes included some Arabic, which gave me my first experience of cutting sequences where I had little idea what was being said, but the film was feeling significantly stronger. The main challenge was finding the correct order to present the narrative. It took us many attempts to perfect and get the film flowing the way we wanted which made keeping my bins organised, incredibly important.

Director Jason Wingard watches the cut.

The edit was locked by the beginning of December, which gave us 6 short weeks to grade the film and get it through audio post, which was handled by Keir Stewart and his team, before our screening for the entire cast and crew at the end of January. The film is now in talks with sales agent and distributors.

Adnan contemplates his situation in a rare moment of solitude.

A still from the finished film, which is Black and White throughout.

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I am a Film Editor and Colourist living and working in Manchester, UK. I’ve edited 7 feature films, including thriller "Age of Kill" and British gangster sequel "Bonded by Blood 2" and am now working on my 8th. I’m also an Avid Certified Instructor.