"Under the Cranes" is much more than an impressionistic survey of Hackney, although it succeeds superbly in revealing much of that most diverse of inner London boroughs. It really extends the tradition of the ‘city symphony’, launched in the 1920s before film could speak, and Michael Rosen’s collage of voices – historic, contemporary and imagined – creates a constantly shifting counterpoint to the equally varied images that Emma-Louise Williams has gathered. But the stories it tells are rarely predictable: home of the world’s first plastic; a cab-horse’s point of view on traffic (courtesy of Black Beauty); trying to buy the freehold of a tandoori restaurant. Even the expected battles with Mosley’s black-shirts are told from fresh points of view; and paintings by Leon Kossoff, Jock McFadyen and James Mackinnon intersperse the filmic record of Hackney past and present, with Rosen’s poetry giving it a surreal edge. Like another chronicler of Hackney, Iain Sinclair, the film’s makers want to challenge the logic of ‘regeneration’, and show its human cost. This is a powerful plea for a liveable Hackney, that can continue to welcome the world rather than only its bankers and landlords.
“Engaging, gentle, dreamlike – Williams’ Hackney is a layered, shifting place teeming with multiple voices and realities, echoed verbally by Rosen’s collage of reminiscence, characteristically generous poetry and collected urban folksongs. Rosen’s presence reminds us of east London’s reputation as a place of political upheaval.”Sight and Sound, 2011
“A wonderfully life-affirming film-poem of place full of lost time and effacements, reefs of street-markets and shop fronts, painted in stock-brick yellows, steel shutter greys and silvery monochromes; and full of people, always people, the voices who have passed this way and called this home. As a collage of the city at its most quick, it has the ache and tug of what has been and gone; as a moving study of resourcefulness, resistance and resilience, it collapses time and returns each story to its street. “
Paul Farley, poet
“ A marvellous evocation of Hackney – the place, the peoples and their dreams too. It reveals the ruin, disconnection and the frailty of life without giving an inch to literary misanthropy or the voyeuristic perspectives in which east London is exploited for tales of misery, depravity and social failure."
Patrick Wright, cultural historian
“For questionable reasons, in the media, the sight in a market of African textile prints and the sound of a Cockney voice selling tomatoes are separated. It’s untruthful. But the truth is there on Ridley Road Market and it is shot through the film too. And I loved it. This film is a rare thing. “Lemn Sissay, poet
“This beautifully constructed film urges us to recognise what is already there, at the heart of a diverse and thriving community, while raising the question that perhaps we are all living in the shadow of the cranes."
“Under the Cranes is an argument to your emotions. Old grainy archive footage seems to invest even the most mundane scenes with a bitter-sweet glow. When these images are paired with sparse piano or traditional Turkish music – and beatboxing and Toumani Diabete – you’ve got a guaranteed tearjerker. But this film is not about nostalgia. The film finds beauty in trash-collecting, and places modern scenes next to old."
“A film-poem that mixes documentary footage and poetry to explore the effect of urban redevelopment on local people. The film weaves together the history of one small part of London in a wonderfully impressionistic way. “