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Interview with Andrea Luka Zimmerman - Director of Estate, A Reverie

8 June 2015 Marina Nenadic

Estate, A Reverie is a portrait of life on a Haggerston housing estate, long slated for demolition, and the lives and struggles of its inhabitants. London Calling talks to Director Andrea Luke Zimmerman, ahead of the documentary’s screening at the East End Film Festival 2015.

London Calling: Can you tell us a little bit about the documentary?

Andrea Luka Zimmerman: Estate, A Reverie is about the estate I lived on in Haggerston for 18 years, and I spent 7 years making the film. I’m a film-maker anyway, and would never have wanted to make a film about the place where I live, until we found out that it was going to be demolished. For the entire time I’d lived there, there had been a rumour that it was going to be demolished at some point, and we campaigned to conserve it and get it fixed up, or transfer it to housing association. But then came the demolition, and it was at that point that I thought: what is it that we’re going to let go of now? There were all these kinds of community engagements and people who have been there forever and the beautiful friendships that form. I wanted to show the life that was there, before it went for good.

LC: Having lived on the Haggerston Estate for 18 years, you obviously have a strong personal tie to the area.  Did this make it easier to document?

ALZ: I think it probably did. Rather than making an expository film about changes in the neighbourhood, I wanted to show the feelings and the people that are never usually seen. A lot of Hackney residents who have been here a long time will resonate. People were actively afraid to go in to the estates, so for a long time we campaigned against that. We made our estate really friendly and we had loads of events going on so that people would come in.

I made a photography project with two other artists on the estate entitled I am Here. This was a way of showing that there are people that live here, we’re not just a random building in a horrible estate as it has often been presented in the media.

These structures are often seen in the public imagination as neglected. They think ‘this place is neglected so they must all be criminals and squatters’. So for me it’s really about showing the lives within these structures, the resilience, the warmth and the true community that exists.

LC: The lack of affordable housing in London and the rapid gentrification of the East is a hotly discussed topic. Does the documentary offer a personal commentary on that issue?

ALZ: It’s very timely unfortunately, it’s not just about housing but also about access to social services when you’re disabled or severely ill and elderly. You will see in the film that people really struggle to get any help at all. So it’s not just rent in itself but also the social structures around it. The cuts happen because people are invisible. Elderly people are invisible, disabled people are invisible. You’re aware that there are people living by very small means, and they create a real life from that, but all of that is impossible by this situation we face now in which all affordable housing is unaffordable. To have a dignified, decent life in which they don’t have to fit into a certain age or ability bracket is almost impossible in Hackney in the future as I see it.

 

Estate, a Reverie, 83mins, 2015 (Trailer) from Andrea Luka Zimmerman on Vimeo.

 

LC: This Documentary was filmed over 7 years. Did it end up how you expected it to in the beginning?

ALZ: I think I probably made about 10 different films! In the beginning as a documentary maker you don’t know what will happen, you just follow every story. And then it became increasingly about the human story, about the characters, about the people on the estate. Community is made up of real diversity and difference and co-existence and generosity, and that’s hopefully what this film shows. I want them to see a celebration and refusal to just be a person with not many means, because everyone has so much richness so I want them to see these communities that are often so unseen or unrecognized.

LC: The film is the last in a trilogy of works about the Haggerston Estate, where do you hope to go now with your art and film making? Will you continue to document East London lives?

ALZ: I’m making a film now; I just got an Art Angel commission to make a film with Adrian Jackson [Artistic Director & CEO of Cardboard Citizens - a homeless theatre company]. We’re just in the research & development phase, we’re very interested in lives which are narrativized with marginalization, but we see them as people surviving and want to look at the kind of stories they bring in their daily survival.

LC: What would you like a London audience to take away from the documentary?

ALZ: I want them to think twice before they make any judgments about people who don’t have a lot of money, are in social housing or are of different ethnicity or different ages, and to really think about the richness that each of these lives comes with if we are all open to their story. And also to be proud that London has the capacity for all these different people, because that’s why Hackney was so vibrant.

LC: The film is nominated for the EEFF best documentary award, how does it feel to be presenting the film on home ground?

ALZ: It means so much to us all in the film, we’re so happy. Of all the festivals the EEFF feels like home to us. It’s really important to us. We actually wanted to have the film presented last year but it wasn’t finished, so we held off until this year. Lots of people from the Estate will come to see it, and they’re all talking about it!

 

Estate, a Reverie is presented as part of the East End Film Festival 2015. For more details and to book your tickets, click here.

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