Review: Here For Life
by Kaleem Aftab
- Artists Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson team up with ten Londoners to share tales of resistance against gentrification
Here for Life [+see also:
film profile] is a London-set film about people battling against gentrification and trying to keep old communities alive. The film is made by artists Andrea Luka Zimmerman, a co-founder of the collectives Fugitive Images and Vision Machine, and Adrian Jackson, a leading expert on the theatre of the oppressed, who in 1991 founded the theatre project Cardboard Citizens. A hybrid film, mixing documentary, poetry and fiction, Here for Life is a testimony to the actors from Cardboard Citizens playing versions of themselves on screen. However, the experimental non-linear storytelling style of the film suggests it might be better suited to a gallery context rather than to cinema exhibition, the way it played at the Locarno Film Festival in the Filmmakers of the Present section. It will have its UK debut in the Open City Documentary Festival in early September.
The first images are as dark and grey as a London day. This seems to be an aesthetic choice, making the film look grubby and born from another time, when digital was first appearing and didn’t produce the sharp, colourful images of cameras found on phones today. Zimmerman, who also worked as a cameraperson on many scenes, insisted that co-cinematographer Taina Galis, who was brought in for more elaborate set pieces, use a small Black Magic pocket cinema camera that Zimmerman had adapted to fit her old Bolex lenses, some of which were bought from street markets in New York City in 1995. It’s a bold choice, but detracts rather than adds to the storytelling.
There are many scenes shot at the Nomadic Community Garden in Shoreditch, East London, a non-profit urban garden set up in what used to be a former junkyard between two railway tracks. It’s a pocket of resistance in an area of London that has seen the most rapid change in the past two decades. The Olympics took place in the vicinity in 2012, and while urban regeneration improved facilities and transport, it also signalled price rises that pushed out old communities. The brew of choice changed from tea with milk and sugar, to specialty coffee with all kinds of milk substitutes.
The various characters tell stories about their lives, reminiscing about good old days that also included moments of hardship. They lament the way bulldozers have dispersed communities. Richard Honeyghan and Patrick Onione walk along the water, where the warehouses have morphed into expensive apartments. These are Eastenders who feel like they have been jilted by the streets. Kamby Kamara offers poetic interludes, Errol McGlashan digs deep into his worst nightmares, and Sasha Winslow talks dating and death.
The directors deserve praise for giving a voice to these often marginalised people, whose stories are too often told from the perspective of homeowners worried about equity. But Here for Life will likely struggle to have a strong impact, precisely because the very same capitalism that causes gentrification makes this film a niche product segregated from the mainstream. This is partly down to the filmmakers’ determination not to concede to traditional narrative structures, instead using an abstract style, but it is also due to some poor lighting and editing choices interrupting the film’s flow.
Here for Life is produced by Artangel, with James Lingwood, Michael Morris, and Cressida Day as executive producers.
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