“What, would you remember this?”
Written By Jack Bottomley
Paul McCartney once sang the line, “if this ever-changing world in which we’re living, Makes you give in and cry” and of all the ways to start a review of a short documentary about the final months of a North West London building, I expect a line from a Bond song comes a tad unforeseen. However this line came to mind as I sat down to watch this near 17-minute short film from Nicolas Motte. The world is changing at such a feverish rate and driving past construction sites or walking to town to discover a long-standing building is now gone, is an increasingly common occurrence. The past by very definition is not a part of the present and areas that once meant something, increasingly have come to be either rejuvenated for their own good or (more often) have come to perish. And this melancholic idea is but one strand in Motte’s quite affirming little film, that’s very existence makes you pleased that modern day filmmakers have a respect for community and local history that are so easily forgotten.
Lights Out Electric House, looks at a soon-to-be demolished building called ‘Electric House’, which ahead of its final life has been redeveloped into a Community Arts Centre. This film tells the story of the building and those who have come to use it. From local resident Thelma Doyle to Project Manager at Meanwhile Space (the group responsible for the community arts project) Diana Grisales, Motte’s film tells the story of a building that was no doubt a mystery to most and yet had much to see. True the film’s historical coverage of the site is mostly rather vague and not so much grounded in cast iron facts and figures but the passion on display is unshakable.
From the very start there is a real poetic feel to this film, aided by a very simple but in-keeping score by William Alexander. Instead of focusing on a revered site of history, Motte has pleasingly picked the Electric House, thus reminding the audience that some of the world’s beauty is not always found in the most obvious of places. This is a film that fights the corner for local architecture and suggests that everywhere has a story to tell and the Electric House’s story of community and artistic voice is one very much worth listening to. In many ways this film reminds of Lucy Walker, João Jardim and Karen Harley’s film Waste Land, which (though set in the Brazilian slums) shares a similar outlook. Art is often seen as pretentious, just as some places are seen as rubbish but often these two things combine to create something rather special.
Chances are most would drive past the Electric House without much more than a glance but indeed every place does contain a story and as we follow the people behind the art displays at the Electric House, this becomes a bittersweet but still sweet tale of togetherness and expression. Marcell Mestyan’s photography in many ways becomes an epitaph to another gone (but thanks to this film not forgotten) aspect of a community. Like Waste Land this is a rare film that shows the human race in a more blissful fashion and the sped up images showing the work that went into the exhibition night shown here, as well as a look at some of the dazzling images that were displayed there, all creates a fitting tribute to a business dwelling turned short term community Centre. At one point a wall has the words “what, would you remember this” and memory plays a big part in this short. The film could have dug deeper into the roots and could have interviewed more of the artists and people involved, as well as shedding light on the council’s process of closure and demolishment. Still, by the end of this Motte’s dedicated film (and with the rather sad closing credits imagery), you are reminded that what is here is effectively lasting. If there is any message to be taken from Lights Out Electric House it is “if this ever changing world in which we’re living, makes you give in and cry”, don’t because where places change, stories can live on. A fascinating and heart-driven short documentary.