Monday, 14 October 2013

"Extending the tradition of the City Symphony" - Professor of Film & Media History Ian Christie reviews "Under the Cranes"

7 london fields
London Fields
James Mackinnon, oil on canvas

"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.  
Ian Christie

Next Screening:

November 1 7.00pm  Film plus writer/director Q&A
at Birkbeck Institute of the Moving Image, London

Monday, 11 March 2013

Making the Film

Under the Cranes, 2011
Image courtesy of Hackney Archives 
Here's something I wrote which was first published in the Arts pages of the Morning Star 13th Feb 2013

"When I first saw Michael Rosen's play for voices, "Hackney Streets" in 2008, I was so moved by this collage of voices and lives which moved across time and space, that I wanted to engage further with it.  So I had the idea of taking Michael's  original piece of writing and making a textured, audio-visual art piece with it, (or film-poem, as it has been called.) 

I started making "Under the Cranes" (the title is a line from the final poem in the film), at the beginning of 2009 and continued to work on it over a two-year period. My background is in radio and I had never made a film before, so I just jumped in, before I had a chance to scare 
myself out of the idea!  In this sense, the film evolved as I worked on it with a tiny team, recording voices, researching the archive, 
shooting on Super 16mm and Super 8mm film on 4 separate occasions, finding music, editing, recording and creating the sound track.

The film was completed in March 2011 and premiered in April 2011 as part of the East End Film Festival at the Rio Cinema in Dalston.

I am delighted that we continue to find new audiences for a not-for-profit film like "Under the Cranes" and I think this is largely a testament to the power of Michael's engaged poetic writing.  

One of the main themes which runs through the film is the question of "regeneration".  This has become a global phenomenon and yet, as an idea and a fact on the ground, it can only be interrogated locally. 

"Under the Cranes" is indeed "local" but what it looks at is happening or has happened in places like Paris, Detroit and Berlin.
 The pattern is nearly always the same; there is an area of dilapidated, derelict property in the inner city; it comes to be squatted or there are local people trying to use it for shops, cafes or workshops; City authorities get hold of it; they sell it off to a developer who moves the local people out and "regenerates" the area by putting up blocks and bringing in the multi-nationals to sell coffee!

The other local/global theme that the film explores is migration, showing some of the struggles (fighting racists, if necessary) that people go through to secure a place for themselves, but also how migration brings diversity and the seeds of renewal.  Again, this can only be interrogated meaningfully at a local level, though,of course, it's a worldwide phenomenon which any audience can relate to their own experience and family background.

In "Under the Cranes" I have tried to approach the subject in an artistic way, defamiliarising what we're asked to look at, inviting the audience to see the places and spaces they live and work in, in a new way.  At the very least, it invites them to ask questions about how these places are appropriated, owned, used and changed.  
I've tried to contrast the lives lived by real people across generations with the way in which developers try to get in and make money out of the built environment "in the moment."  

In the end, for me, "Under the Cranes" is an expression of feeling about "place" and "home" and the beauty to be found in an urban site, which is why you see in the film the work of three painters who depict the urban landscape - Leon Kossoff, Jock McFadyen and James MacKinnon -  just as I have tried to do with the camera."

Screenings 2013:

February 13 7.30pm Film plus and discussion with Ken Worpole 
at Bishopsgate Institute, London

March 6 7.30pm Film plus writer/director Q&A 

May  9 7.30pm Film, Spoken Word with Michael Rosen and Live Music from Mansour Izadpanah 
at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London

May 12 1.30pm Film and discussion with Rowan Moore, journalist & author "Why We Build" 
at Brighton Festival, Brighton Dome Studio Theatre

May 21 10.30am Film plus writer/director Q&A Hackney, University of the Third Age 
at Homerton Library, Hackney, London  

May 23 7.30pm Film plus writer/director Q&A 
at Birkbeck, Institute of the Moving Image, London

September 9  7.30pm Film plus writer/director Q&A
at Free Film Festival at All Saints Church Hall, Blenheim Grove, Peckham, SE15 4QS

November 1 7.00pm  Film plus writer/director Q&A
at Birkbeck Institute of the Moving Image, London

Under the Cranes, 2011 
To book the film for a screening please contact 
Emma-Louise Williams