Directed by Edward Lomas Starring Asheq Akhtar and Emma Peadon Short Film Review by Annie Vincent
A tiny film with a big message, Benefits is a sad glimpse into how a dystopian world might treat benefits claimants and is a stark reminder of society’s prejudices and incessant need to label and hypothesise about those in need.
Sat in booth 89134 (an indicator of just how many of these booths might exist), Adeel is attempting to claim a weekly benefit allowance having failed for the 200th week to secure a job, despite the numerous applications he has made. This week, from fifty applications, he has received zero callbacks or interviews and now requires a benefit payment. When his ‘data’ doesn’t meet the computerised booth’s expectations, he is placed in front of a less-than-qualified panel of taxpayers who will make the final decision about his benefit award. When he doesn’t admit to having a dog, children, and won’t sing a song, he is awarded just £50.00 and his account is docked the additional money it already had in it! He chooses to send this money to his child maintenance account rather than pay himself, and is left with just £2.10, until that is also used in the frustrating automated system he is forced to use each week.
While short, this film packs a satirical punch and is incredibly thought-provoking. The script is sardonic and drips with disdain as a man, unable to explain himself to a computer which only recognises certain scenarios, is objectified and judged, by people who do not know him, with pity, nonchalance and contempt. Benefits forces its audience to rethink their own assumptions about benefit claimants and the scathing rhetoric that surrounds the issue in our culture – are we so very far from holding kangaroo courts to decide the fate of benefits claimants?
Director Edward Lomas has done some excellent work here too, filming the entire film in close quarters. The booth is oppressive and squalid, the computer irritating and inhumane in its communication and the close camera work on Asheq Akhtar, the resigned but despairing claimant, is great, especially when it captures then faint smile and sparkling eye when our protagonist is presented with the choice of paying the benefits to either himself or his child.
This is the very best kind of short film – well conceived, well shot and with something to say. Benefits is worth every second of its three minute run time.