“Invisible Lives”: Romanian Night Workers in London

Global cities like London have an incessant rhythm of consumption that needs to be maintained around-the-clock. This short film shines a light on the invisible lives of people working at night whilst the majority sleep or enjoy the nocturnal life. Invisible Lives is a short documentary that explores the experiences of Romanians working at night in London.

This film, made by Tim Marrinan and Iulius-Cezar Macarie, features night workers in the construction and hotelier industries, a sex worker on the street and a market trader. They share their stories that encapsulate the highs and lows of night work, from moments of danger to moments of tranquillity when night meets day.

These people’s lives are hardened by threats from pimps and punters or from tiring 12-hour night shifts. The night workers’ experiences are revealed in snapshots through audio stories combined with a visual portrait of nocturnal London– a city that never sleeps.

Through a mix of visually artistic frames and in somewhat poetic manner, the film documents through images and words, the pulse of the nocturnal London, and how and in what ways the precariousness affects the lives of Romanian migrant night workers in this global city. Uncertainties and risks taken by workers on short-term contracts or working illegally (sex worker and market trader), flexibility demands, and no welfare benefits available to protect them reveal the presumed precarious livelihoods. What sets Invisible Lives aside from other films is that it allows the protagonists to portray their lives as they are, without much interference through commentaries or analysis.

As SI’s visual sociology editor, I was very excited to find such a great recent example of visual ethnography/sociology (which is why we included it both in the Visual Sociology and the Sociological Craft categories). The carefully dovetailed image-and-narrative work together to explore a number of important sociological issues – migration, gender, labour, sleep, precarity. Invisible Lives makes great use of thick description – both in the traditional, narrative sense, and a more modern visual ethnographic sense. While it does guide the viewer towards a certain standpoint of analysis (critical of the precarious life-paths of the invisible night workers, reproachful of society’s lack of engagement with the night workers’ plight), it does so in a gentle, non-prescriptive, and all the more convincing way, allowing for multiple interpretations, and letting through the authentic voices of the research participants.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the film is the brainchild of a sociologist – Iulius-Cezar Macarie, junior research fellow at the Centre for Political Studies at the Central European University, and a documentary filmmaker with some great projects in his portfolio – Tim Marrinan.

Tim Marrinan is a freelance documentary filmmaker based in London working primarily on films addressing issues related to art, culture and society. He is currently working on his first feature length documentary and his previous short film, Beam Drop was
screened internationally at film festivals and was aired on television in the UK (Sky Arts), the US (Plum TV).

Macarie’s PhD research investigates who is up at night, why and for what purpose. It seeks to explore if an anthropologically informed qualitative inquiry could reveal differences and similarities amongst Romanian and Turkish night workers’ access to a decent human life in global cities like London with an acute need for migrant labour to maintain its 24-hour economy. The central theme of solidarity against competition amongst migrant night workers provides the conceptual framework for his in-depth comparative research to investigate these two communities living and working the nightshift in London. Macarie gr­ew up in Romania and collaborates with Nightlaboratory. Since September 2013, he is an ‘INTEGRIM’ Marie Curie Junior Research Fellow affiliated to the Center for Policy Studies, and in parallel a PhD student in Sociology and Social Anthropology, at the Central European University, Budapest.

The film co-directors, sociologist Iulius-Cezar Macarie (left) and documentary filmmaker Tim Marrinan

The film co-directors, sociologist Iulius-Cezar Macarie (left) and documentary filmmaker Tim Marrinan


The film is part of Roundtable Projects 2013 — an open platform for cultural projects developed in partnership with the members of the Romanian community in the UK. If you liked it, here you can check out the film’s Facebook page.

Categories: Research Profiles, Sociological Craft, Visual Sociology

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