Inspired by the photos of Don McCullin, the documentary is a 'love letter to L8'
What can you tell from a photograph taken at one moment in time? 50 years ago, photographer Don McCullin captured Toxteth extensively on film. One of his most iconic images was of a young girl vaulting over a puddle, with a slum clearance acting as her backdrop.
I love living in L8. I wouldnʼt want to live anywhere else in Liverpool now
The area of Toxteth was once a prosperous area for wealthy sea-merchants and the upper-classes. You can still see the Georgian houses and lush green spaces today. Following the decline of the industry, the area became a melting-pot of cultures as immigrants and people from less affluent areas moved in.
The 1970s and 1980s were an era of decline for Liverpool as a whole, but the so-called Toxteth Riots in July 1981 have made the L8 area synonymous with the headlines of the time, and cemented this view of Toxteth as a place better avoided.
Fast forward to 2020, when director Daniel Draper saw the Don McCullin exhibition at TATE Britain. Concerned that this was the view of Liverpool that gallery visitors would take away, Daniel decided to make a film about the place he calls home.
It was McCullin’s photograph of the young girl against a slum clearance that really sparked Daniel’s imagination, and he decided to track down its modern-day location and document the hunt.
Cadogan Street, Wavertree, early 1970s and 2020
Original photo taken by hugely influential photojournalist Don McCullin https://t.co/96Uo3GnVVy
The girl jumping is Stasia Franek and her memory of the photo being taken is here https://t.co/ABr5IdzVD6 pic.twitter.com/jv5dZwEWXU
— Liverpool: Then and Now (@keithjones84) January 13, 2020
The result is Almost Liverpool 8, a love letter to the L8 postcode, made by filmmakers who live there. Shot during lockdown, the documentary features the area’s vibrant residents and captures the essence of pride and community, during a time of hardship for many people.
The film paints a parallel picture of a modern vibrant postcode, presenting L8 as a portrait. Using a static camera to observe people, landscapes and architecture - with no music, narration, or exposition - the audience must observe and make judgments on what they see.
The film crew started with the places they frequent in the area, from Al Rahma Chicken shop to Peter Kavanagh's pub. Each interview subsequently led on to another, until they had a range of people for the film, of all ages and backgrounds, to truly represent the “multi-cultural, multi-sexual, easy-going” place they all call home.
Using the McCullin photograph - and McCullin himself - as a jumping off point, the film takes a journey through a community built on the blood and sweat of the British Empire which is now an example of how integration, tolerance and diversity makes up everything that is positive about Britain today. With synagogues, mosques and churches sitting shoulder to shoulder and Yemeni, Syrian and Caribbean restaurants found side by side, Toxteth is the world in one postcode: Liverpool 8.
The film takes a tour through the streets of L8 and features local people, artists and businesses to show a modern, vibrant, working-class culture.
Photographer Don McCullin talks about his relationship with Liverpool and taking the famous “girl jumping over a puddle” image back in 1970. He shows us some other images from his Liverpool collection and shares what he hopes the people of Liverpool take from them.
Mersey poet Roger McGough talks to us about Liverpool, poetry and being part of the group with Adrian Henri and Brian Patten who knew Don McCullin in the '70s.
Actor Wendy Okoli plays the part of Stasia Franek, the girl from the McCullin photo who did not want to be on film. Playing around with truth and image, Wendy's part in the documentary brings the original photograph to life.
Buster Nugent is a community activist who speaks to us about the BLM movement and how he finds living in L8. His views on the past don't detract from his optimism for the future. A landlady full of character, Rita Smith talks to us from Peter Kavanagh's, one of only a handful of pubs left in L8. She tells us the pub is the “beating heart” of the community.
Beekeeper Barry Chang’s views on bees can teach us more about the world and humanity than we thought possible. Operating on a first name basis only, Ibraheem is full of passion for his produce; “the best chicken in Liverpool”.
The cast also features Joe Farrag - community organiser behind the much loved Granby Street Market - as well as actor Brodie Arthur, poet Amina Atiq, writer and historian Ronnie Hughes, Park Palace Ponies founder Bridget Griffin, entrepreneur Delucia Emina, shopkeeper Adam Saleh, rapper P3Lz, photographers Ab Badwi and Jane MacNeil, musician Eugene Lange and artist Elliss Eyo-Thompson.
Director Daniel Draper says, “I love living in L8, it's a real community and there is so much going on that local people are organising and creating for themselves. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in Liverpool now."
Produced by Shut Out The Light Films and Dartmouth Films, 'Almost Liverpool 8' is directed by Daniel Draper and Allan Melia and produced by Christie Allanson.
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