Filmed in 2016/17, this documentary follows the inhabitants of Hoxton Street in Hackney, London. Tackling subjects like Brexit, gentrification and austerity, the varied inhabitants of the street give their views on how it has changed and where all this change may be leading.
The Street manages to interview a wide range of local people from the elderly and socially isolated people who no longer recognise the place they grew up to the trendy intellectuals and artists who are now buying up all the real estate in the area, from small business owners struggling to survive to the homeless people who depend on the altruism of community initiatives to survive.
It’s a provocative film that does rile the blood. Seeing estate agents walking the camera crew around million pound flats built in the ruins of council estates and trendy creative office spaces that used to be garages or even missions makes one weep for the cost of progress. But the film absolutely does not romanticize the past. The crew interview people attacked by the EDL in the 70s and people who are absolutely positive their problems are being caused by all those Romanians coming over. They seem oblivious to the long shadow of the city that looms menacingly on the horizon.
The insight that this film offers into the soul of the Londoners is fascinating. Truly wonderful voices from garage owners to world weary priests to local intellectuals, all of whom have astounding awareness of the forces shaping the destiny of the street. The documentary also finds local business owners and elderly residents and explores the fears and anxieties that led many of them to vote for brexit. In one truly fantastic video the residents of a cafe admit they were misled and would reconsider were the referendum again. Such candor is refreshing.
Even the interviewees who demonstrate prejudiced viewpoints are treated sympathetically. The problems facing this community are so overwhelming that it’s hard to begrudge anyone the solutions they’ve come up with to explain away their woes. But a quick dose of reality, interviews with local people affected by discrimination and hatred, demonstrates the cost of such prejudice. It’s clearly a class difference that is most tearing at the character of the street.
Of all those interviewed the most heartbreaking are the small businesses who have left the street. Chez Zouzou, Anderson’s Bakery, the garage opposite Hoxton station and countless others are all left abandoned or torn down for flats the locals probably won’t be able to afford. This is a story of lives disrupted and people turned away. People leave the street as if they had died. Priced out to the far reaches.
The film perfectly captures the current state of London’s fractured soul. It’s a city at war with itself, whose residents are struggling to form any kind of unifying identity. Moments of kindness are inspiring, but this is a portrait of a London that seems almost hopelessly divided between those at one side of the street and those at other.