Aro Korol • Director
“Soho epitomises what’s happening around the world with regard to gentrification”
- At the Warsaw Film Festival, we spoke to director Aro Korol to find out more about his documentary Battle of Soho, which explores the gentrification of Soho and other places
Inspired by the closure of iconic club Madame Jojo's, the British documentary Battle of Soho [+see also:
interview: Aro Korol
film profile] examines the gentrification of the London district of Soho and other major cities. Director Aro Korol discussed the film with us at the Warsaw Film Festival, where it screened in the Documentary Competition.
Cineuropa: What led you to make a film about gentrification?
Aro Korol: I lived in New York for several years, and places like [famed music venue] CBGB were closing down. I didn’t think much of it when it happened, but when I moved to London in 2008 and Madame Jojo's was closing, I understood that the same thing was happening there. New York has changed so much over the last three decades that I remember it as three different cities. It used to be called The City That Never Sleeps; now it can barely stay awake for a dessert. There are only old people, rich people and people who never go out. It became boring. The same thing is going to happen to Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest...
Do you have your own experiences with Soho?
I used to go there in the 1990s, and only now have I seen the change. Soho epitomises what’s happening around the world with regard to gentrification. It’s just one square mile, and the whole thing has been a construction site for the last six years. In the last few years, there have been more changes there than in the entire 60 years that came before. It’s like it has been bombed – completely destroyed and rebuilt. On one hand, you can blame corporate greed; on the other hand, it’s just natural evolution. Everything’s so rapid now – and boring. And fake.
Do you see a way out of this situation?
I think if we just sit back and do nothing, nothing will be saved. If we start acting, starting petitions against places being closed and supporting local businesses by going to places we like instead of Starbucks, there’ll be a chance that places will survive. People should make a stand because politicians are afraid of people protesting.
Do you think your film can make a change?
That’s one of the reasons I made it. I wanted to raise awareness. Battle of Soho has already helped one family: there was a mother and two girls who became interested when we showed up with cameras near where they lived. They started talking about the situation, and the organisation that owned the building gave her a flat to shut her up. It’s already a success, as they now have a roof over their heads. That woman who came from Africa and barely speaks English won out over a big British corporation. That shows that we have the power to do anything.
How did you select the interviewees for the film?
Some of them I love; some of them I can’t stand. Some of them are smart; some of them are complete idiots. You know, it’s like that with all people. I separated my emotions from the film – as a director, you have to do that. You can’t show that you don’t like this particular person, because it wouldn’t be a documentary; it would be an “opinion-mentary”. Michael Moore, for instance, I consider a brilliant filmmaker, but I don’t like his style, because he tells his audience what to think. He thinks of his audience as idiots. My opinion is unimportant; I’m just a director.
Could you tell us more about your late narrator and co-writer Johnny Deluxe?
He just passed away from cancer, and it’s so ironic that in the film he compares what is happening to London to this disease. He didn’t know at the time that he himself was sick. He used to have a punk group called Fist Fuck Deluxe in the 1980s, at the beginning of the punk movement. Later, he worked in voiceover. With this film, he finally appears on the big screen.
You directed, shot and edited the feature yourself. Was it difficult to do all of these jobs simultaneously?
It sounds like a one-man orchestra. But it’s a documentary, and I would never do it if I had to work with actors. I am a filmmaker, not just a director. These days, you can’t just be a director. You have to know everything – how to record sound, mix it, sell the movie, even how to make a website. It’s a new era, and we have to adapt. If you don’t, you’re lost. The industry is so democratised now.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.