Under The Cranes – charting change in Hackney

under the cranes dalston junction

Under the Cranes: Dalston Junction

Under The Cranes, the first full-length feature from director and radio broadcaster Emma-Louise Williams, is an impressionistic and lyrical evocation of Hackney, resulting from a collaboration with local poet Michael Rosen,

Using rare historical footage juxtaposed with current images and urban sounds, the film paints a vision of the changing face of Hackney and how the current ‘regeneration’ of the area is affecting the character of the borough.

The film’s gestation dates from 2008, when Williams saw Rosen’s play for voices, Hackney Streets. Completed in March 2011 and premièred the following month at the Rio Cinema as part of the East End Film Festival, the film’s themes will resonate with both local and global audiences.

Using Super-8 and archival footage, Under the Cranes documents how members of Hackney’s Jewish community, together with Congolese immigrants, helped purge the neighbourhood of the Oswald Mosley’s fascist henchmen in the 1940s.

Elsewhere we hear voices – school children signing rhymes, a Jamaican builder, a Turkish barber, and recitals of Shakespeare in Shoreditch.

According to Williams: “A theme the film explores is migration, showing some of the struggles people go through to secure a place for themselves, and also how migration brings diversity and the seeds of renewal.”

For Williams, the spectre of ‘regeneration’ is one of the wider issues of the film, something that has become a recurring global phenomenon not just confined to London.

She continues: “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 in or there are locals try to use it for shops, cafés or workshops. Then city authorities get hold of it, sell it off to a developer who moves the local people out, ‘regenerates’ the areas by putting up blocks and bringing in the multi-nationals to sell coffee!”

The film’s wide scope and poetic, dreamlike feel distances it from being simply a polemic against gentrification, however.

Williams explains: “I have tried to approach the subject artistically, by inviting the audience to see the places and spaces where they live and work in a new way. At the 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 developers try to get in and make money out of the built environment at any given time.”

Keen to emphasise the meditative, painterly feel of the film, Williams adds: “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, just as I have tried to do with the camera.”

Under The Cranes is showing at Bishopsgate Institute on 13 February (with appearances by Emma-Louise Williams and Michael Rosen) and Rich Mix on 9 May. For more information visit Under the Cranes.