Nina Kojima speaks to us about making her Brexit Documentary during the Covid pandemic.

It’s been a year like no other. People have died, businesses have gone bust, kids have been off school – the world has turned into the kind of drama only the creators of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Contagion’ could have predicted.

But another drama has continued alongside this – Brexit. It’s now almost become part of the British ‘brand’, alongside the royal family, fish and chips and The Beatles. (We seem to have forgotten the alternative term, Bremain…)

In 2016, when the British people were voting in the EU referendum, a lot of them were humming the Clash song, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’. When I started filming a documentary about the referendum and its consequences – ‘Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass’ – I too asked myself lots of questions: should we risk filming during the Covid pandemic, should we continue with our plans? The main reason we decided to go ahead was that all the opinion polls showed the nation remained divided on Brexit. When all our guest speakers – academics and experts on Europe – confirmed unconditionally that they would grant us an interview, I felt it was the right decision.

Our first shoot took place on 2 December in Eastbourne, with Tim Bale, Guardian columnist and professor of politics at Queen Mary University. He gave us a great interview and it was so nice to be out again, working with people, even travelling just a couple of hours in the car. We filmed the beautiful cliffs and coastline nearby and our cinematographer Malcolm Mclean captured some amazing B-rolls.

brexit documentary

I’d almost forgotten how dramatic and majestic the British coast was.

There were only five members of our crew, to minimise the risks of catching the virus and also to allow us to keep two metres apart from each other. As director and producer I also had the clapper board; our sound recordist Arianny was also the boom operator and had no assistant; and Malcolm the cinematographer was also a cameraman, along with Torquil. My assistant was also a location manager, caterer and shooting supervisor.

Everything went smoothly that first day and I thought that perhaps filming during Covid wouldn’t be too challenging. But I was wrong. Just a few days later a member of our team got very ill. Then our shoots for the second half of December were cancelled due to new government restrictions. We were halfway through filming. Looking back, I am surprised by my confidence, or perhaps arrogance, as I never considered we might not make it to the end.

Luckily we did, and our documentary is now in the final stage of post-production, adding the credits and mixing the sound. Our final day of shooting was 13 February, and we finished with bottles of bubbly before two members of our crew rushed to an NHS centre to get their Covid vaccination!

One of the stand-out quotes in the documentary is from LSE political science professor Simon Hix: “Covid is for a couple of years, Brexit is for life.” Another of our interviewees, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, once a tutor to former PM David Cameron, reveals that Cameron consulted him about the referendum and that he advised him to do it later – in 2020! But Cameron was apparently afraid that in the summer of 2016 Syrian refugees would flock to the UK and that this would shift British people’s opinions towards voting to leave the EU. Some might agree with his view, but in the documentary Bogdanor points out that if the referendum was during Covid the result may have been different.

Professor Iyiola Solanke, chair in EU Law at the University of Leeds, reminds us in the documentary that our laws are actually in many ways more advanced than EU laws, so we can’t see the EU as a panacea. Her example is the Race Relations Act, established in Britain in the 1960s, whereas the EU brought in anti-racism laws years later.

brexit documentary

Cambridge law professor and constitutional expert Catherine Barnard explains the effects Brexit will have on Scotland and Northern Ireland; and fellow Cambridge professor Meredith Crowley says there is no country or indeed continent on this planet that could replace the EU market, and that the British government knows this. Professor Jonathan Portes from King’s College London explains how difficult it will be for Brits to work, travel, marry and retire in the EU.

The director of UK In A Changing Europe, Professor Anand Menon, says he believes that since the referendum public opinion on Brexit has dramatically changed, and some who voted leave would choose to stay now. Another one of our speakers, Jill Rutter, a senior researcher from The Institute for Government, says that people are only now waking up to the consequences of Brexit.

We have now completed our documentary, but I don’t think this will be the last film on Brexit, or even the last one from us. I believe we are in a profoundly worse situation than we were before and it will take us years, if not decades, to recover. The name of our company is Partisan Media and I hope as many people as possible in the UK and Europe will watch ‘Brexit Through the Non-Political Glass’, which presents the views of people we should have listened to before 2016, rather than propagandists, politicians and populists.

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