INTERVIEW UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Interview with Jorge Leon
Your film is based on a legal report. Could you tell us more about this document ? How did you learn of its existence and decide to adapt it ?
It’s a testimony that was obtained in the context of a judicial procedure necessary for anybody wishing to initiate proceedings in order to be recognised as a victim of
human trafficking. Without this declaration, which has to be signed by the plaintiff, the procedure cannot be activated. The film follows on a previous film called 10
Min., made in 2009, through which I discovered the existence of these documents of judicial hearings. In the case of 10 Min., it was the testimony of a young woman,
enlisted against her will in a particularly violent prostitution ring. In 2020, during lockdown, I was contacted by one of the centres that help victims of human trafficking in Belgium – the Pag-Asa centre – that suggested I create a film using the same process, hoping to point out, this time, the worrying situation in the –
very gendered – sector of construction. I accepted the commission because this situation echoes the extremely worrying migration policies being led in Belgium, and
more widely in Europe. As I write, hundreds of people are locked up in the Béguinage church in Brussels, where they are on a hunger strike that the authorities are completely ignoring. Most of these people are in Belgium illegally, even though they have worked here for many years, without legal recognition, and therefore without a job permit. This denial of their existence and of their contribution to the country’s economy inevitably leads to abuses on the part of certain bosses, who take advantage of this precarity. Through the singularity of one trajectory, Under Construction points out a symptom as a direct consequence of a certain migratory policy.
You have someone read this report in a voice-over, rather than have the worker express himself directly. Could you explain this choice?
The transcripts from the hearings are drawn up by police inspectors, or, in this particular case, by inspectors from the social security services. This document is
written by a civil servant, the plaintiff's words are already transformed, which confers a particular value upon the testimony. The words that are used, the formulations, are coloured by this mediation. It seemed more accurate to use this aspect of the declaration, to expose the facts precisely without exposing the person. What is more, I am not allowed to meet the plaintiff. His identity is kept secret over the course of the whole procedure. The documents that were given to me were made anonymous, but for both Under Construction and 10 Min., the plaintiffs agreed to the film being made. Directing these two films at more than ten years interval brought me to read multiple audition sheets and I'm struck by the logic of terror, by the attempts at dehumanisation taking place. I reach the conclusion that human trafficking follows a certain method which it is important to shed light on. Help centres for the victims of human trafficking use those two films to sensitise professionals whose work is in direct connection with these problems. Their aim is to identify and dismantle these mechanisms in order to defend the victimes as best they can.
Most of your film shows empty construction sites. Why did you choose this visual material?
The question of anonymity is everywhere, throughout the whole process. It seemed more fitting to shoot sites of labour devoid of any human presence in order to give
more space to words that are too often confined to the audience chambers of the halls of justice. I was refused multiple times before I found a company that would let me
film on their construction site even though they knew what the film was about. The fear of a confusion between the places mentioned in the testimony and the places
being shot led to reticences that are most revealing… I wanted to inscribe the city, the polis, at the heart of the film. I was finally allowed to film in the centre of Brussels, on a construction site that offered unparalleled views onto the capital of Europe… That being said, even had I wanted to film construction workers at work, this was expressly forbidden except for the final sequence which shows workers of the City of Brussels working on another iconic site: the Stock Exchange. The workers agreed, as an explicit sign of solidarity.
Interview by Nathan Letoré.