At Home in Scotland reminds me of the role myth plays in our storytelling history, despite the constantly evolving mediums of our oral histories, printed tomes and visual ethnographies. Documentary film is one of the most recent innovations in how we tell non-fiction stories, yet the narrative structures remain ancient, and archetypal. While a part of my research seeks to uncover the hidden stories experienced by survivors of forced labour and human trafficking, I am conscious that these stories do not necessarily start and end in tragedy. Behind each story, a person lives. A person who is not defined by a single, traumatic experience, but who brings with them years of lived experiences, a crowd of voices, and a range of sentiments, ideas and contradictions. They are not static, nor are their stories. And like the hero, they are experiencing a complex journey that we as academics, filmmakers and spectators may be fortunate enough to witness at a point in its cycle. We may have a singular snapshot that captures this quest, but ultimately they will experience it alone, and continue alone.
Stories that illuminate the issue of modern-day slavery in the UK are growing exponentially. Yet these investigations that uncover gross human rights violations and call into question the moral integrity of our citizenry are not easy viewing. While I argue they are necessary, it is equally important for the storyteller to take her listeners on a truthful journey: no singular event happens without causality, no one person represents the whole. We are responsible for the telling of the story, not the story itself, and it is here where the use of generalisations may not be reckless, but also dangerous.
As a witness to stories, we can only faithfully document the experience. And despite our love of myths and our need for heroes, we cannot alter the journey to suit our appetite for tragic pathos or happy endings. In our rush to elaborate on an important issue, we must not forget this is someone’s else story we are narrating. In our efforts to recall, inscribe and sing another’s experiences, we must be conscious that our role, in the end, must remain where it began - in the chorus.
Mei-Ling McNamara @MLMcNamara