Sunday, 23 December 2012


Sukhdev Sandhu
Critic, UK/US

Under the Cranes
Emma-Louise Williams, UK 2012

A polyphonic meditation on time and urban space, a cinematic version of one of Charles Parker’s ‘Radio Ballads’, this Michael Rosen-scripted evocation of the borough of Hackney is a joyous wonder, an instant addition to the modern canon of filmic London. Super-8 streetscapes and archival alleyways rub up against Al Bowlly tunes and Malian kora music, the testimonies of contemporary Congolese immigrants is heard alongside proud retellings of how anti-fascist Jews purged the neighbourhood of Mosley’s henchmen in the 1940s, and child rhymes hang beautifully over a much maligned and increasingly gentrification-threatened area.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Artists' Film: review from Litro Magazine

Artists' Film: Under the Cranes

Under the Cranes (2011)
Cities are challenging, both to live in and to define. They are each a unique life form constructed from many smaller ones. For some they are amazing, baffling or frustrating, particularly for the planners and architects responsible for so much of the life that goes on within them. For others, they are a place for living. You may feel alone in the city but you are actually always among others.
Art provides us with various creative methods for engaging with the complexity of urban environments. "We need art," writes Jane Jacobs in her book The Death and the Life of Great American Cities, "to show us meanings, to illuminate the relationship between the life that each of us embodies and the life outside us." Owing to the intimate relationship it maintains with its subject matter, Under The Cranes, from the first-time filmmaker Emma-Louise Williams, is a lively and complex portrait of Hackney that does not conform to conventional genres, nor does it attempt to explain or document Hackney in any straightforward manner. Instead it is both an artistic response to the area in film and sound, and an adaptation of a “play for voices” about the East London borough, written by the children’s writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen. The film is also a gentle provocation, challenging the rhetoric of council-led regeneration and development initiatives by choosing to focus on the people and the buildings that are affected by various top-down decision-making processes. This focus resists the possibility of the film becoming perhaps too inward-looking, and allows Hackney’s current situation to be considered alongside those of other places around the UK affected by regeneration projects.
The film is incredibly well researched, disclosing various little-known facts about the past and present of Hackney, including its diverse communities and its history of highly skilled manual labour. The adapted script from Hackney Voices is accompanied by original footage of present-day Hackney and rarely seen archive footage depicting social life and events in the borough. It is also interspersed with poignant musical intervals and shots of paintings made of the area that reflect the artistic nature of William’s own response in the film.
In its meticulous research, subject matter, and imaginative, trans-temporal narrative, Under the Cranes recalls the writing of Iain Sinclair, or the films of Patrick Keiller, particularly with the long shots and the static camera. However whereas Sinclair and Keiller both maintain a singular, overarching and authoritative narrator throughout their work, this film maintains the kaleidoscope of Hackney Voices from Rosen’s play. It even brings in more new voices (the old woman who explains, “I used to run the buses during the war… not a lot of people know that” was an addition suggested by Williams).
It was Jane Jacobs who wrote, “Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order.” Not only is there no master narrator that leads a viewer through this film, Under the Cranes, like the urban environment it seeks to portray, is a delicate “mingling” of diverse components that come together in a similarly complex form of order. The words of Jacobs, “Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration,” are a fitting epigraph to this film, where spoken words and pictures jostle and interweave in friendly and lively difference.
The editing of sound and images is carefully done and a sophisticated achievement. For example, in one moment from the film, we see archive footage of slum housing from the early 20th Century. At the same time a male narrator recalls the sight of decrepit and falling-down housing, which corresponds with this footage, but suddenly the camera cuts to a present-day shot of the interior of Sutton House and the narrator talks about a man named Burbage building a theatre. At this moment we realise that the voice actually belongs to William Shakespeare, and that we have seamlessly traveled backwards and forwards through time over hundreds of years, simultaneously, in a matter of minutes. The ability to achieve such instantaneous and simultaneous time-space travel is unique to film and brilliantly executed here. It is as the British film artist Tacita Dean explained, “Art on film makes us conscious of the time and space we occupy, and gives us an insight into the nature of time itself.” Chronological time is here revealed to be in fact merely an idea among many others. It is the people in this film, with all their idiosyncratic stories, that are seen to endure.
The film has been accused of being nostalgic, presumably suggesting that the film is in some way delusional (nostalgia in Western cultures was first diagnosed as a psychological illness that inflicted soldiers at war), or that it in some way romanticises Hackney. Beyond the fact that there is nothing romantic about the decrepit buildings, squalid living conditions or fascist, anti-Semitic rallies that feature in the archive footage (as Williams has been keen to emphasise in post-film Q&A sessions), I find such observations about the film to be misjudged. A lot of the archive footage in the film features the lives of working people and their families. When cameras were still a novelty in the everyday lives of ordinary people, they tended to be reserved for celebrations or happy occasions (in fact, they often still are if the pictures on most people’s Facebook profiles account for anything). The early, domestic still-image cameras didn’t work properly unless it was a sunny day, hence giving the misguided perception that it was always sunny, back in those days. It seems unfortunate that the film’s focus on everyday people through its use of the archive might be mistaken for being merely a nostalgic tendency, when it seems more appropriately an attempt to bring working-class people back into the history of what is a working-class area, through a considered use of images.
Under the Cranes (2011). Courtesy of Hackney Archives.
Nostalgia, as Milan Kundera explained in his novel Ignorance, is precisely the feeling of an unappeased longing to return somewhere. The Welsh, as it happens, have their own word for nostalgia: hiraeth, which has no direct English translation but means, approximately, the longing for a home that no longer exists, or perhaps never did. While Under the Cranes makes emotional and bittersweet references to the past lives of Hackney, it never appears to express longing for a lost past. On the contrary, the film demonstrates how much the past and present are intimately connected. It is critical of the loss of London’s progressive post-war social housing initiatives, and their replacement with profit-driven regeneration projects. But when considered alongside other recent works that document and lament these various and seemingly irreconcilable changes—such as Ian Sinclair's book Hackney, That Rose Red Empire, and the more recent London Preambulator and The Four AcesUnder the Cranes stands out for its unique form of optimism. Far from nostalgic delusion and longing, there is instead a sense that overcoming struggle is historically part of the fabric of this area. And history is a bit like a London bus: it goes round and round and, as Rosen’s poem reassures us, “It’ll get there today. And it’ll get there tomorrow.”
The next screening of Under the Cranes will be at the Bishopsgate Institute on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 7pm. For more information and to arrange a screening of the film, visit, and follow @underthecranes on Twitter.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hoxton Hall - Friday 23 November 2012 - 7 pm

Under The Cranes-Screening, exhibition and Q&A

23rd November 2012


£6 Full price | £4 Conc. | £3 School Group
Blending drama and documentary styles, Under the Cranes is a beautifully conceived meditation on the multicultural history of  Hackney and the changes that continue to shape this part of East London. Director Emma-Louise Williams seeks to counter the prevailing perception of the inner city as a site of failure, ugliness and misdeed through a socio-poetics of everyday life. Breaking with the linear narrative convention, the audience is invited to apprehend the city as a sequence of interwoven vignettes: 'past in the present; present in the past.  The screening will be followed by a Q & A with poet Michael Rosen and Emma-Louise Williams.  Accompanied by “The Changing Face of Hackney” exhibition of local people’s work.
What other people say

“ 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
“ 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.”
The Socialist Review

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Open House for Under the Cranes

Watching an excerpt from Under the Cranes, Saturday 22 September 2012
Art House Foundation, 55 Laburnum Street, E2 8BD

Artists, architects, authors and residents reflect on the changing nature of housing in London
as part of Open House 2012.  

With contributions from Owen Jones (Independent newspaper columnist and author of Chavs), Andrea Luka Zimmerman (resident and artist filmmaker, "We Are Here"), Marcus Coates (performance artist/filmmaker), Michael Rosen (poet) and Emma- Louise Williams (filmmaker, "Under the Cranes"),  and Neal Purvis (housing expert). 

 The event was chaired by David Roberts (architectural researcher).

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Housing in London - Artists Respond

i was here - the changing face of housing. Open House...

i was here - the changing face of housing. Open House Weekend 2012

Saturday, 22 September 2012 from 15:00 to 22:00 (BST)

London, United Kingdom

Ticket Information

When & Where

Map data ©2012 Google - Terms of Use

Haggerston Estate

E8 4HN London
United Kingdom 

Saturday, 22 September 2012 from 15:00 to 22:00 (BST)

  Add to my calendar
15:00 Film tour of Hackney with Ian Christie
Renowned film historian Ian Christie gives a journey through cinema history in Hackney, passing by iconic film locations. 1.5 hours, from 15:00-16:30 - beginning in Samuel House courtyard, E8 4HN.
22 Sep 2012Free Sold Out
15:00 Tour of City Mills with L&Q and PRP architects
Housing developers L&Q and architects PRP give a personal tour of City Mills development. 1.5 hours, from 15:00-16:30 - beginning in Samuel House courtyard, E8 4HN.
22 Sep 2012Free Sold Out
15:00 Tour of Haggerston Estate with David Roberts
Architectural researcher David Roberts gives an performative tour of the Haggerston Estate drawn from his research over the last two years. Please note the tour will be recorded to feature in a film, please do not take part if you do not wish to participate. 1 hour from 15:00-16:00 - beginning in Samuel House courtyard, E8 4HN.
22 Sep 2012Free Sold Out
16:00 Tour of Haggerston Estate with David Roberts
Architectural researcher David Roberts gives an performative tour of the Haggerston Estate drawn from his research over the last two years. Please note the tour will be recorded to feature in a film, please do not take part if you do not wish to participate. 1 hour from 16:00-17:00 - beginning in Samuel House courtyard, E8 4HN.
22 Sep 2012Free Sold Out
17:00 Discussions
Personal reflections from artists, architects, authors and residents on the changing nature of housing in London. Confirmed speakers include Owen Jones (Independent newspaper columnist and author of Chavs), Marcus Coates (performance artist/filmmaker), Michael Rosen and Emma Louise Williams (poet and filmmaker of Under the Cranes), Andrea Luka Zimmerman (resident and artist filmmaker) Ruth Marie Tunkara (resident and community activist) Neal Purvis (housing expert), chaired by David Roberts (architectural researcher). 2 hours, from 17:00-19:00 - Art House Foundation, 55 Laburnum Street, E2 8BD.
22 Sep 2012Free Sold Out
19:30 Open air performance and films
Open air film screenings, music, food & drinks on Dunston Road, beside the Regent's Canal. Performance by singer/songwriter Olivia Chaney, followed by films on the theme of housing - Dunston Road, E8 4HN.
22 Sep 2012Free