Opinion | Housing Issues and the Cinematic Possibility

Behind the Screen (1916)

Quite possible, the below confessions are inspired by two Charlie Chaplin films that I recently revisited, Behind the Screen (1916) and How to Make Movies (1918).

We see an increased number of homeless people across different towns. Even though in opposite side of the street where they normally beg, a stand appears everyday to promote Christianity with free copies of Bible are given out; the situation is now out of God’s control. We also see numbers of abandoned factory buildings and warehouses, up and down the country, from the disappearing British manufacture industry. It is expected that these empty buildings will slowly be bought and turned into luxury flats, charity organisations need to intervene into this situation. To amalgamate these two major issues, there could be a way not only to help with the housing issue but also to reactivate the manufacturing culture. A space of fiction is needed to confess this fantasy.

This will be a fictional documentary or a documental fiction. Like the Italian Neo-Realism, the film will include non-professional actors. Ideally, the characters will be the people who live on the street, they represent themselves. The setting of this film however, will be slightly more fictional. A kind businessman wishes to set up a charity to help with the housing issues in this country. At the same time, he also wants to encourage people who live on the street to become active and productive again, rather than providing them free accommodation or cash. He invests in an empty building, to restructure the inside, with half of it being accommodation and the other half as a new line for manufacture. People who do not have a home can apply for a shelter by working at the factory at the same time. Just as how a film studio is built, this film will certainly include the process of how this empty building being turned into an ideal workplace/home for those who needed a place to stay (within the film). The process of building the studio is the process for the workers to build their new home. As I continue to type, many sub-stories already began to emerge from this main story line, if you also have the same imagination, you could perhaps see the creative potentials. While the news we read nowadays fail to live up to its role for social justice, the fantastic space that a film could offer can in fact create a greater impact and resonance among the public.  Surely, a pretty face is needed – the hero. Celebrity effect is not that bad if orchestrated wisely. Hugh Grant is certainly the most ideal person to act the role of a kind businessman. Considering Mr Grant has always been explicitly active in supporting good journalism, will he also be interested in supporting a project like such? While these old empty factory buildings are already naturally cinematic, all we need to do is to fill them up with some inspiring stories.

The tragedy of Grenfell Tower which took place last month brutally woke us up, all of us, to realise the urgent housing issues not only in this country, but around the world. While the ongoing protests, political campaigns and other ways of expressing desperation are not moving things forward, we need to turn our craziest ideals into practice and try to make them come true. The public consultation may start with a cinematic possibility.

If anyone who reads this post that is interested in co-developing a “script”, please feel free to be in touch. It will be a labour of love.