Here. Us. Now – Cardboard Citizens

Directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There’s a certain image which comes with the term social housing – several images actually. Most postulated by tabloid papers or exploitative media, one of benefits, violence or the downtrodden. In reality – utter nonsense. A raw, often thriving sense of community exists in multiple social housing estates across the nation and exists as a means to support and encourage those from all walks of life, and it’s time to change the tone of how we talk about it.

Split into eight short films, Cardboard Citizen’s Here. Us. Now. series documents the culmination of a year-long project seeking to tackle the misconceptions surrounding social housing, focusing attention on the diversity of residents and their experiences and voices. Though sharing common traits in structure, framing and length, the shorts tend to lean into separate issues of rights to buy, community, gentrification, and even looking at social housing through the eyes of those who view them as areas that attract trouble.

Tackling singular issues under the umbrella of social housing, each short film focuses on an interview conducted in a similar vein to that of Tony Parker, this time using performers to recite the words as they wander the estates, sites, and houses of those living in the area. Performances range, but on the whole capture an authentic sense of self and individuality, with John Watts in You Have To Be Active and Joyce Ensley’s I Am Not A Quitter in particular. But a special mention to the raw and seamless performance from Nirobi Official in Exclusion Within Inclusion who demonstrates an ability to recite without breaking illusion in the short’s headphone verbatim manner.

Across the board, sound design is tight and drives the essence of the city bustle and constant sense of momentum without detracting from the storytelling. An additional touch that returns autonomy of the stories to those originally interviewed, is the fading in and out of the initial interviewee’s voice mingling with that of the performer. The film’s editing is seamless (if simplistic), merging many contemporary images and shots with nostalgic clippings of the past to reinforce the prevailing feeling of lost community.

Pushing beyond a collection of eight individual pieces, Cardboard Citizens and director Dorothy Allen-Pickard structure the eight pieces into an arching narrative surrounding the myths and stigmas of social housing. It’s advisable to watch all of the films in one sitting, rather than breaking them up and losing impact. Gradually a fuller picture emerges as the initial videos lend themselves to icebreakers, looking at the residents, their experiences with homelessness, work, and the troubles some face. Gradually culminating in the reverse and shifting out viewpoint in a rather clever device, the final short A Bit of a Divide takes us over the road, interviewing residents of the new buildings overlooking the problems and issues of the schemes and estates.

For a collective that scarcely breaches the twenty-five-minute mark in total, Here. Us. Now. condenses generations of lives, thoughts and struggles into a digestible sequence of well-choreographed and directed pieces. Apart from the occasional shaky performance, the only fault the shorts have is their nature – being short. Audiences will come to have favourite stories and the genius behind Cardboard Citizen’s project is not to over divulge, but instead generate a fresh pair of eyes to those living in social housing, enticing people to look into communities and investigate, rather than perpetuate stigmas and stereotypes.

The Here. Us. Now. collection is available here

Film & Image rights © Cardboard Citizens

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