I Must Away (2023), written, directed and produced by Dennis Harvey, is a documentary that explores the idea of diaspora. It follows the stories of five different immigrants coming from many different corners of the world and their lives across the span of seven years.

Something of interest is that the director himself is one of the immigrants and his choice to include his own story gives the documentary a very intimate feel. He explores each of the stories through letters to his own grandmother, which he reads out as part of the narration. Though this is his first major film, Dennis himself is actively involved in making the stories of immigrants be known and has mentored many immigrants with the filmmaking process as part of the organization Noncitizens, which is a collective of activists who highlight oppression and bigotry through the medium of art and film.

At first glance one might assume that the documentary is only about moving to a different country, but it is more than just that. Each person’s struggle ultimately does not include just them, and we are offered a detailed lens into how these changes affect not only the migrants themselves but their families, communities and relationships. 

The director carefully connects the dots between the five completely different worlds in order to deliver a compelling and empathetic display of people simply just going about their lives as you feel like you are not only watching their stories but physically joining them on their journeys and daily life. This is echoed by the straightforwardness apparent in each of the interviews as well as the use of handheld cameras to record these accounts. It’s unapologetically unpolished, and that truly makes the entire production, a reproduction with top line equipment would lead the documentary to lose its charm.
The viewer gets to see all aspects of the migration process, some preparing to depart and others having lived there for years, as well as a few of the many different reasons one may migrate; for work, study, asylum, or just simply to leave. The documentary notes the fact that though some of the subjects may not have asylum in the country they are in or are going through hard times, they are still good people, a quote of note being the; “(he’s) once again offering me the kind of unconditional hospitality that’s so long overdue to him”,  the director referring to one of the interviewees who welcomes him into their home with open arms despite their struggle with finding a home in that country in the first place.

Overall the documentary has significant nuance to itself as migration is not something everyone goes through. However, the director asks the audience to understand that migrating is a hard decision to make and the strength one has to have to go through with such a feat in such a caring and empathetic way.

Pia Roycroft