Review: Boots on Ground

Directed by Kiran Kaur Brar, an autobiographical account of a second-generation British South Asian woman’s experiences with the police, racism and violence in London.

The idea of having a separation between the dialogue or narration of your story and the visual is a good concept for exploring a complex issue but it runs the risk of disconnecting the pieces of the film. Unfortunately that’s what happens here, despite the fact that the visual element is entirely relevant to the account the narration is giving, the two simply don’t weave well enough together. At the least, they don’t in a short documentary context but as an art piece it would very likely be judged differently. As it stands the visual almost becomes a distraction from the audio element which is a shame.

Brar’s story is one that many will be able to relate to and with the sad state of racism and violence in the UK, it’s not unlike what’s been heard before. Although that doesn’t make it any less compelling, it’s a harsh truth and one that should continue to be told until society improves. The choice to tell it in a tone of voice that’s akin to very calm, spoken word poetry is an interesting one. It brings the discussion of whether it’s more important to discuss such things rationally as to not give power to those who hate, or to voice the justified anger and disdain. The filmmaker clearly went for the former and it does work but with the visual also being one-noted, it needed something else to provide more energy.

Regardless of how the elements work together, one thing it very clearly does is raise important issues, particularly that of racial profiling and harassment by the police. It then goes on to further that conversation with how these attitudes of the police are intensified after incidents like terrorist attacks committed by anyone who isn’t white. It highlights the continued question of how people are meant to feel safe if at any time, someone who simply has the same colour skin commits a crime, it puts them in an increased danger simply walking down the street. It also shows how little has changed, progress is slow and if recent years have shown anything, it’s that racist attitudes in Britain have not declined.

Boots on Ground tells a history of decades of racism and police harassment in just a few minutes. The power of that story is somewhat undercut by the disconnection between the visual and the narration, it distracts from the importance of its words. It needed a bigger energy to drive home its message and bring everything together cohesively.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of Open City Documentary Festival

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