While remaining true to the essential themes that are consistent throughout all of his work, All White in Barking and Men of the City at the same time demonstrate the distinct evolution of style and approach that has taken place since the earlier documentary work of Marc Isaacs. The distance is most pronounced if we look back as far as Isaacs’ first short film, Lift (2001), filmed indeed almost entirely within the confines of a lift in a London tower block. Regularly taking up position in a corner of the lift over a period of two months, sharing a small space with the inhabitants of the tower block, gradually getting them to open up small but revealing aspects of their lives, it was the inspired choice of this little common in-between space, between home and the outside world, that Isaacs unexpectedly found a perfect little microcosm of a section of British society that had previously never had a voice, or indeed anyone willing or interested enough to lend a sympathetic ear to their stories.
It’s the stories of little people, unacknowledged by a world that is not so much uncaring as largely unaware of their existence that would also become the subject of Marc Isaacs’ subsequent two documentaries, Travellers (2002) and Calais: The Last Border (2003). Finding another two ordinary, everyday, neutral and intermediate places of interconnection – train stations and a port – Isaacs was able to tap into an even greater cross-section of modern society and reveal how the ordinary can become extraordinary when it comes to ordinary people’s emotions, feelings and experiences; their suffering, their hopes and their fears. The evolution between the first three films of Marc Isaacs is small but clearly perceptible, each respective film being a little more ambitious, externally widening its scope while at the same time delving deeper internally into those qualities that, for better or worse, make us all human.
From a small space of some 40 square feet in Lift, Travellers extends its view to consider the often ordinary impulses and reasons that drive people even a short distance from one part of the country to another for reasons that we, probably caught up in our own concerns and having never spoken to strangers on a train in the way Isaacs does, would never have imagined. Calais: The Last Border expands this viewpoint even further, considering how people attempt to better their lives and start anew through emigration, the film taking into consideration not only the more obvious question of the much maligned figure of the illegal immigrant – referred to pejoratively as Asylum Seekers by disdainful Calais booze-cruisers in the film – but also looking at the reasons why British people leave the UK. In each film, Marc Isaacs manages to shed a light on a hitherto little explored aspect of British society, putting a human story behind headlines and statistics, giving the vaguely threatening stranger next to you a rather more sympathetic human face.Noel Megahey’s complete essay, from which this short excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet of the DVD release.