Phil Peel

Film, video, photography, sound and story

Archive for April, 2019

Taking back control of our borders.

Posted by Phil On April - 3 - 2019

I remember when we had “control” of our borders.

As I have been film making for a lo-o-ong time, I can remember what it was like to make films in Europe before we were part of the European Community. That wonderful time  ..when we had control of our borders.

So In 1972, I was the sound recordist for Southampton University Teaching Media Centre’s film unit. Incidentally apart from me it was all female.  But I digress.

So we were tasked with making a documentary about the French Elections and had to travel over to Le Havre from Southampton. (You could travel direct from Southampton back then.)

We were going to film over two weekends, as French elections take place twice .. a fortnight apart.

So we were working quite lightweight  and could carry all our film gear. 16mm film Arri camera, Nagra sound recorder, tripod and redheads

But to take film equipment into France required a Carnet (temporary import certificate) This we had to get from the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, some weeks in advance.

So we arrived in Le Havre on the Thursday evening. The equipment was all checked thoroughly by customs, all the serial numbers on the all the forms checked out, which only took an hour. We filmed all through until Sunday night.  Interestingly being tailed by the French DGSI (security police), as we were guests of the “Communist” mayor. They all looked and dressed like Peter Sellers in the PInk Panther. Difficult to take them seriously…but I digress.

So we left on the Sunday evening. Again had to allow a couple of hours to go back through French customs.  Then through British customs who still wanted to see the kit, but didn’t thankfully go through each serial number of each lens.

Two weeks later we arrived at Le Havre .. to hit a big problem. Somehow we hadn’t got the right stamp when we had left. So they said we could re-import the kit the paperwork showed that we hadn’t left France.

They agreed that we clearly had. But the paperwork had to be right. This proved to be a real problem, so they left us for several hours in an empty increasingly cold customs area, whilst they tried to solve the problem. The people expecting us had no idea what had happened to us, assumed we had missed the boat and went away. (No mobile phones then)

Eventually the French officials came up with a solution. Which was breaking the rules, but they wanted to go home. So they escorted us across the dock, over to the outgoing custom area and allowed us to leave France – importantly getting the correct stamps on the carnets. So then they escorted us back over to the incoming side. Stamped our forms, and smilingly welcomed us to France and hoped we would have a good stay.  Oh by the way all of this was in French. I believe they could speak English, but chose not to understand it.

So we arrived outside the port, in the early hours of the morning. With no taxis. I can’t remember how we got into town.  ..walked?

So we filmed all weekend. Fast moving, extraordinary behind the scenes of the election. My Nagra failed, but I worked overnight, disassembled it on my bed, managed to locate the board with the fault and resoldered the dry joint,  but anyway I digress.

So we got back to the ferry terminal. Went over to say goodbye to our secret police followers, who tried to pretend they were just passers by. Through customs, we were used to the process now, as they unpacked all our gear and checked the serial numbers. All went smoothly and back in Southampton  British customs read all the forms, but didn’t bother to unpack our equipment.

A year later I went back to do more filming. In the meantime the UK had joined the European Community.

So we took packed our equipment, walked through the ferry terminal, filmed and came back. No forms , no customs, no delays.