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Behind the Rent Strike – Nick Broomfield (1974)

2 May

I saw this wonderful film the other day as part of the Bread and Roses film festival – Nick Broomfield was there to answer questions afterwards so we learnt a little more about the making of the film. I enjoyed the film so much I wanted to write a short piece to encourage others to watch it. 

The film opens with a middle aged woman putting Nick Broomfield firmly in his place. As a middle class film-maker he can never understand the lives of the working class and will never produce films that will reflect their realities. Ethel was certainly right to bring this young arrogant film maker down to earth, and his inclusion of scenes like this perhaps reflect his willingness to acknowledge and interrogate these limitations, of both himself and his medium. Yet, despite his privileged position, Broomfield’s documentary of life in Kirkby, Liverpool during the rent strike of 1972/3 does succeed in vividly portraying the difficulties and determination of the community.

There are many wonderful scenes which subtly, and sometimes a lot more explicitly with Ethel, get to the root causes of the issues faced by community. Broomfield takes his camera into the local school, where the emphasis on discipline acts as a cover for the real issues of poverty and unemployment. As Ethel notes, when the school send in the careers advisor, they might as well send along someone from the dole office as well. He also films in the local Birdseye chicken factory where an incredible scene of lines of women dismembering chickens was filmed with Broomfield being pushed on one of the factories trolleys around the room. Broomfield and the trolley pusher had failed to communicate beforehand when his assistant would stop pushing the trolley, and so they ended up doing the entire length of the factory.

Broomfield described in a Q&A how the women were the ones who were more active in the day to day organising of the strike, although in the meetings it was the men who tended to dominate. He conveys this well in the film through his interviews with Ethel and another woman whose thoughtful observations and reflections on the strike very much show that they were at the forefront and how significantly the struggle impacted on their lives. Broomfield lamented slightly that he hadn’t filmed more of the daily conversations held by the women – with a set amount of film that he could use, he saved it for the set pieces such as the strike meetings. He states that he would make a ‘less direct film now’.

Despite what it could have been had more film been available, Behind the Rent Strike is a beautiful and important film. Although exactly 40 years ago, the words of the residents of Tower Hill Estate strongly resonate today. They faced increasing rents for their poor housing conditions whilst their wages stagnated. The situation was intolerable. As one resident described, ‘the law doesn’t work for us, we have to take it into our own hands’.

Inspiring films I’ve watched this Christmas

1 Jan

I’ve watched some fantastic films over Christmas, it’s been amazing! I wanted to leave some sort of record of them, even if it’s just a small paragraph, and hopefully it’ll inspire people to watch them as I’d definitely recommend them all. There are some films that I definitely haven’t done justice to and for this I apologise. If you’ve enjoyed these films too, please let me know your thoughts. Now I’m looking forward to the release of the Thatcher film, ‘The Iron Lady’, it should be interesting…

Goodbye Solo

A beautiful, funny, moving film, situated mostly in Solo’s car, in which the charismatic Solo befriends the withdrawn William who seems incredibly reluctant to be a part of this friendship. Solo’s relentless charisma is exemplified by the fact that, although I am a feminist, his numerous references to ‘big bootys’ somehow did not offend or grate on me. This is not to detract from the seriousness of the film which focuses on deep loneliness and, in the words of Blanche Dubios, ‘the kindness of strangers’, namely Solo, who shows such humanity to the lost soul William. A beautiful film of friendship and loss that is thought provoking (subtly encouraging us to think about how we treat each other in society?) and unforgettable.

Encounters at the End of the World

Director Werner Herzog camera and curiosity spans Antarctica showing the incredible forms of life – both human and non-human – that find themselves thriving on and below this incredible continent. Interviews with the quirky, impassioned people who find themselves living and working here complement breath taking footage of their weird and wonderful animal co-habitors. As one scientist points out – this is not a static and barren environment – but a dynamic one teaming with life – much of it yet still to be discovered. This place feels like another world, but it is firmly situated on planet earth – reminding us of a way of life beyond the concrete jungles we inhabit – challenging us to view ourselves and live our lives differently.

Reclaim the Streets – can be watched here

Tells the story of the street parties which happened up and down the UK in the 1990s in order to reclaim the public space which had been privatized by polluting cars. The footage from the time is exciting and inspiring to see and the commonalities with today’s protests, such as Occupy London, were somewhat surprising. Were the FIT team going then? There are definitely shots with the police filming protesters with old skool cameras. The diversity of the protesters – Liverpudlian dockers, ravers, and environmentalists was interesting to note too. An important and exciting movement of our recent history. I particularly liked the ‘Trees not MPs’ banner.

When the Levees Break – directed by Spike Lee

A fascinating documentary which uses interviews with a great diversity of people and footage of the event and its aftermath to tell the story of Hurricane Katrina’s (along with the US government) destruction of New Orleans. This documentary is absolutely compelling – and you come to love certain interviewees. New perspectives and insights to this terrible event are learnt from listening to the interviewees’ eloquent descriptions – many of these insights are deeply troubling, for example, learning how families were separated in the evacuation – but such an interrogation of what happened and what went wrong in the government’s response is absolutely vital. A very important film showing the neglect and disregard that the US government showed to its own people told by the people who experienced it.

The Wind that Shakes the Barely – directed by Ken Loach

A beautiful film with stunning shots of the Irish countryside. Hidden amongst the hills of the deceptive idyllic landscape are Irish freedom fighters and peasants living in poverty. It is 1920 and a group of young men are fighting for independence and socialism against the brutal British occupation. Damien, at first reluctant to take up arms at all, finds himself embroiled in this bloody conflict of which his conscience will not allow him to escape. A powerful and moving drama.

Land and Freedom – directed by Ken Loach

An unemployed Liverpudlian, David, who sees no future for himself there, leaves for Spain to fight the fascists and for a better future for all in the Spanish Civil War. He joins a militia of other international fighters and some Spanish – organised with everyone allowed a vote and with women fighting alongside their male companeros. This is, as David says, socialism in action. However, soon the different political visions clash furiously with each other within the militia reflecting the serious ruptures between the anti-fascist fighters across Spain. David is caught between these political stances and finds himself questioning his own beliefs. This is a gripping drama which vividly captures the hopes and desires of those fighting in the Spanish Civil War and their betrayal by those who claimed to be fighting for the same aims.