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London bound

 

Like a Third-World version of the globe-trotting TV series "The Amazing Race," In This World features 16-year-old Jamal and his cousin Enayat on their illegal voyage from Pakistan to London. The young Afghan refugees may find a better life at the finish line, but they face deportation or worse as possible penalties.

Welcome to Sarajevo director Michael Winterbottom makes In This World as close to nonfiction as possible. Nonprofessional actors (like Jamal Udin Torabi and Enayatullah as the leads) improvise the dialogue of Tony Grisoni's fact-based script. Beginning in Pakistan's Peshawar Camp for Afghan refugees, Winterbottom shoots the scenes on digital video in the actual locations. Indiana Jones-style maps with moving red lines follow Jamal and Enayat as they cross the continent.

Jamal and Enayat both irritate and rely on each other during their journey, and though Enayat is older, English-speaking Jamal seems less vulnerable and more savvy. But In This World focuses less on their relationship than on the realities of modern "people smuggling." The cousins get a new phone number to call for every leg of their journey, and they have to place their trust in complete strangers who are criminals by definition. The filmmakers are clearly passionate about the plight of Afghan refugees and imply that America's neglectful foreign policy requires them to seek better lives elsewhere.

In This World sets a pace as rapid as any high-speed road movie and never lingers in any one place or scene for long. Jamal and Enayat jaunt across deserts, over mountains and through cities that become increasingly modernized. They endure tense moments at border checkpoints and duck gunshots while crossing the mountains from Iran into Turkey. Winterbottom shoots such scenes with black-and-white night-vision photography, capturing ghostly images of armed patrols and horses plodding through snow.

In This World is the first in IMAGE Film & Video Center's monthly Sundance Film Series of independent features to be screened the first Wednesday of every month. The next closest thing to an actual documentary, In This World offers a melancholy yet gripping account of the 21st century's underground railroad.

IMAGE Film & Video Center presents In This World on Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. $8, $6 members. 404-352-4225. www.imagefv.org.

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