Tag Archives: documentary

Home Sweet Heygate

16 Apr

Home Sweet Home, Enrica Colusso (2012)

Home Sweet Home, a documentary based in the Heygate estate, speaks with both residents and council and corporate figures as the estate is gradually emptied through the latter’s’ ‘regeneration’ plans. Through this exploration, Colusso tries to draw out wider questions: what is a home, who owns our cities? However, the film maker’s whimsical voice tries too hard, the narrative-poetry does not come from the Heygate and feels forced and affected. It is more infuriating than informative. Shots of her Mac and iphone displaying archive footage, perhaps an attempt to play with documentary conventions, are jarring, unnecessary and inappropriate. Or perhaps it was some sort of reflexive acknowledgement of her class privilege or an ironic comment on the Mac class to whom the Heygate is being handed over to by Southwark council.

Yet, Colusso has captured some brilliant footage that makes the film important viewing. Speaking with residents in and around their homes and sometimes as they leave for the final time; these scenes are captivating – at times hilarious and very moving. A single parent mother tries to articulate her feelings about the imminent eviction as her daughter plays with a toy that sings a piercing jingle. A man sits for the last time in his armchair in the home he has spent half his life in. A grandmother wraps up her trinkets telling the stories that they hold as she gets ready to leave. These scenes convey uniquely and powerfully the inherent violence of gentrification. Juxtaposed with these homes – spaces that have been lived and loved in, now being brutally yanked away – a plastic looking man from Lend Lease, tries to convince us that he understands the meaning of ‘home’ describing the old farmhouse he and his partner have bought and are “SPENDING LOTS OF MONEY” renovating. Other interviews with the architect of the new development, the leader of Southwark council, and some other Southwark council non-entity, are fascinating in their grotesqueness. It is impossible to do what they said justice, but it involved a mantra of contempt for “poor people”. Taking themselves seriously, they came out with statements such as: “There are rich people and there are poor people, we need to mix them up a bit. Call me utopian…” Someone plays around with a model of the Elephant area, picking up the Heygate chunk and casting it aside. Replacing it with their vision, he proudly points out the new passage ways which have been created allowing people to “flow”. Through their language and actions they are surprisingly honest about their project of class cleansing. The absurdity of it all is shown through archive footage of Bill Clinton declaring that “Elephant is the place to be”.

A cliché ending with the Special’s Ghost Town tells the narrative that Lend Lease and Southwark council scum would have you believe. With one home still inhabited and many people still using the space for games, gardening and other activities, they have not won.

 

 

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’.