Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Film Review by: #BrianPenn
If a film documentary works it will allow the characters to tell their own story; free of manipulation and commentary the film becomes a permanent record of life as people see it. Director Zed Nelson just about nails it with the story of a shrinking community in the heart of London's East End. Hoxton Street in Shoreditch famed for its thriving market is rapidly changing. Proximity with the City of London has made it a target. Developers are circling, eager to rip up every blade of grass. The film tracks the locals over a period of four years. A time frame that captures the fall out from Brexit and social neglect of Grenfell Tower. The story has particular resonance for me; I was born and raised a stone's throw away in South Hackney; and immediately gripped by the narrative.
Our story begins with a buoyant market packed with long established traders; the car mechanic, carpet shop, bakery and of course Cooks the legendary pie and mash shop. By the time of Brexit, the market's complexion completely alters as a rash of coffee bars, delis and art galleries emerge to meet the needs of a gentrified client base. Luxury tower blocks rise up with flats costing £1 million a pop; but don't dare ask about social or affordable housing. The locals just aren't local any more, priced out of an area they can barely afford to breathe in let alone live.
Characters like Errol the car mechanic lament the disappearance of a community he once knew.
The Street is careful to represent all sides of the argument as they interview an estate agent, priest, developer and newbies on the block. However, the most poignant contribution came from 82 year-old Colleen; a lady who sadly never married but now feels engulfed by a whirlwind of change. The commitment to balance is admirable but cannot disguise a basic truth; money is king and has no time for notions of community.
Gentrification is a deeply unpleasant word; it implies a better class of person has populated a working class area; when it's simply a distinction between the haves and have nots. People are entitled to dispose of their income how ever they see fit; if that pushes up house prices then so be it. But when the authorities allow expansion without control, it turns many people into second class citizens. Some may argue that a new community is emerging albeit with cash on the hip. But the newcomers are often transient with little social awareness.
Of course time moves on and we cannot make progress without change. But is a scorched earth policy really necessary. Is it wise to discard everything from the past; aren't some traditional values worth preserving? Zed Nelson employs a very simple technique to great effect. He turns the camera on local residents and asks them for an opinion. It requires no enhancement as the narrative stands its own. The Street is thought provoking and engaging, portraying an honest but frequently bleak view of modern life.