Open City Documentary Festival

Open City Documentary Festival 2019 – Focus: Here For Life, Poetry Is Not A Luxury Development

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Here, Laura Staab looks into Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson’s Here for Life, examining the film through the poetry of Audre Lorde.

Here for Life, a creative documentary directed by Andrea Luka Zimmerman in collaboration with Adrian Jackson, is set in areas of conflicted regeneration in London, such as the East and the Docklands. Here, ten working class or otherwise precarious Londoners share spaces and stories: an experience voiced by one is frequently carried on by another, and then another, as if a folk tale, a thing of indeterminate, multiple belonging. In the film, a poetics and a politics of the common is palpable. And it is sustained offscreen: entirely disparate from an artist-tourist who only toys with the site-specific (in a way which usually amounts to a pillaging of ‘the other’), the filmmakers worked closely with the actors and areas seen in the film for four years. So Here for Life displaces a metropolitan fixation on acceleration and exclusivity, through and through. 

If reverie is found in the estate elsewhere in Zimmerman’s films, then poetry is found in a similar domain here. As Audre Lorde once asserted, and Here For Life continually reminds us, poetry is not a luxury. As much as dreaming is a common right, so is artistic expression. Often, it comes from someone in an anaemic, boxy, could be almost anywhere abode. He raps plainly about rags to riches narratives: nobody wants poverty /  everybody loves money. He pops an Aristotle, bottle, of unexceptional fizz, while encircled by an odd splutter of one, five and ten dollar bills. Also visible: an energy-saving bulb. Or, it comes from people at an open-mic night. One performs spoken word, markedly attuned to a self-same economy of give and take. One performs, lamenting: angels have gone / this little town / ain’t for me. Also visible, if not angels: strings of fairy lights. 

For Lorde, poetry is comprised of habitual lights by which we scrutinise our lives – whether an energy-saving bulb, or sunshine as it falls between branches of blossom, mercifully perforating a grey city. For Lorde, poetry is ‘the skeleton architecture of our lives’. It is specifically a house of difference: the difference of diversity, or the difference of tomorrow from a grey today. And lastly, lastingly, like Lorde’s poetry, the poetry of the film approaches life ‘as a situation to be experienced’, rather than as ‘a problem to be solved’, or a problem to be sold. 

As such, Here for Life stands in defiance of a corporate elite which attempts time after time to auction off the inhabited everyday: it is a declaration against those attaching ‘affordable’ to a salary of £100,000, against those defining a house aspirationally, along the vertical lines of high rises. In one sequence, two people pose satirically in front of artist’s impressions of prestige properties. They mock interaction with the inaccessible cookie-cutter images, all marble and glass. They point out how shallow ‘the good life’ is. Here, and elsewhere, the film states that life is not a problem to be sold – and poetry is not a luxury development.

Laura Staab is a PhD candidate in the Film Studies department at King’s College London.

Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson’s Here for Life screens on Sunday 8th September at Regent Street Cinema.