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You Are to Blame for Gentrification

The team behind new film 'A Moving Image' share their experiences of a disappearing South London.

Joseph Walsh

(Top image: Screen shot from 'A Moving Image' trailer)

"I told Shola to use my story because Brixton was somewhere that I grew up, and now I feel as if I am no longer welcome," says Rienkje Attoh, the producer of A Moving Image, the first feature from writer and director Shola Amoo.

The gentrification of London, particularly Brixton, is at the heart of A Moving Image. While it's a subject pertinent to Londoners, gentrification is an issue that has impacted everywhere from Berlin to New York, as the film reflects. Property is overpriced, rent is going up, chain stores have replaced family businesses. The result, as Amoo and Attoh show, is the displacement of communities across the capital, sanitising the boroughs and stripping them of their individuality.

A Moving Image focuses on Nina (Tanya Fear), a struggling artist who returns home to Brixton after a stint away living out east. She doesn't receive a warm welcome and is viewed as part of the problem of urban gentrification facing Brixton. She decides to make a film examining the subject and the resistance to gentrification.

The trailer for 'A Moving Image'

The subject of the film is close to the team's hearts. Attoh and I discuss how Peckham was recently named one of the most desirable places to live in London. "One of the people involved in A Moving Image was talking about Peckham and saying what a great Nigerian community there is, but how long can that community exist there? If you were lucky to have a council flat there that you can now sell you might be OK," she says. "If not, are you going to get moved out to Peterborough or somewhere else in the country?"

Attoh is keen to point out that "everyone is welcome to be anywhere", but for her and many people in London, gentrification results in people questioning what they can call home when that place no longer exists.

The film is a mixed-media feature blending animation, documentary, fiction and performance art. Its creative use of different media reflects the diversity of the area it is trying to capture, all told in a deeply personal and authentic way. The core team behind it have all lived (or currently live) in south London, and it is their experiences that allow the film to reflect a story common to a generation of Londoners. Rather than condemning any individual's actions the, team behind A Moving Image say they want to start a conversation, get people talking and acknowledge how all those living in London – or any capital city – are complicit in the problem. They are asking: what can be done?

For Brixton, very little can be done, as Amoo and Attoh point out: "A lot of what you see in the film is now gone." Amoo was born and raised in Elephant and Castle, an area that has seen its own form of gentrification. For everyone involved, telling the story meant being authentic. "We interviewed and spoke to real people, and the stories aren't just stories; they are real moments, real things, real struggles," explains Amoo.

Attoh and Amoo have both witnessed seismic changes in their home areas. The pair knew that time was precious: if they didn't document what was happening it would be lost. But that doesn't mean they don't recognise their own complicity. "Our generation is struggling to exist in this big changing city, especially as creatives where part of you is your community and that desire to reflect their experiences," says Attoh. "As creatives, we can also be part of the problem, moving to areas because they are cheap, and then changing those areas. We wanted to make a film that spoke to us, to our generation, to people that don't feel they belong in a place, people who are at a stage in their life where they feel the need to move on because a phase of life has passed."

"It feels sad that people are being forcibly removed from a place where they feel the culture they created is vanishing."

Attoh, who has a background in journalism, met Amoo in 2012, and he encouraged her to go to film school. Her mother had a background in documentary filmmaking, and it felt like the right decision. This story is a familiar one to others involved in the film, with Amoo often proving to be the man recruiting young creatives who want to share their stories.

One such emerging talent is Mdhamiri Á Nkemi, an editor in his final year at The National Film and Television School, who has written, directed and edited a staggering number of short films already, as well as editing the visuals for Kylie Minogue's O2 Academy concert in 2014.

He reflected on his personal connection to A Moving Image: "On the first day of the shoot I was delivering some hard drives, and I hadn't been to Brixton in about five years. I was shocked by how much it had changed," he says. While the change took him back, he believes in the message of the film, and that it "has the potential to change how people think about the situation".

The star of the film is Tanya Fear, whose credits include Netflix's Spotless. She too felt passionately about the film's themes and subject. "When you see the places you love disappear – like family-run places where you go for your rice and peas – I find it sad," she begins. "South east London is like a village. I have lived in places where I have known every single person in the shops on the high street. There is a strong sense of pride as south-east Londoners. It feels sad that people are being forcibly removed from a place where they feel the culture they created is vanishing."

The reality of gentrification is complex, and A Moving Image doesn't deny that. But behind the scenes there is another story. A story that shows a collective of bright, talented story-tellers, eager to share their experience and do what any good film should: start a conversation.

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