Why I made ‘Hanging On’: Director Alfie Barker on the award-winning film about our plight

Hanging On is a powerful documentary about Pemberstone’s plans to demolish our homes and destroy our community. This moving 10-minute short depicts residents hanging in the air, literally clinging to their homes, hoping to prevent eviction and demolition. Hanging On has already garnered a lot of international attention and recognition, winning awards and being selected for prestigious film festivals.

We spoke to Director Alfie Barker about his experiences making the film and helping to keep our campaign in the spotlight.

Documentaries can sometimes be made by an individual, but ours was made with an incredible crew in collaboration with a community – who it wouldn’t have been possible without ~ Alfie Barker, Director. 

~Why did you choose our community’s story over everything else that’s happening in the world?

AB: ‘Hanging On’ holds an urgent message that speaks to experiences that so many people around the world are going through – it’s shocking. I found the story by chance on the Yorkshire Evening Post and followed it over the course of a few months, trying to think of the best way to make a film. 

This community is from Leeds, which is where I’m from, and they have lived in Oulton almost all their lives. They’re slowly being evicted at a time when everyone needs their homes the most and I found it heartbreaking. People around me didn’t know about it and I wanted to try change that. I’ve seen lots of interviews about coal-mining towns and villages but I wanted to make something that represented what these places and these communities look like today, not something from an archive.

Alfie and the team hoist residents up on a crane to show that they are, quite literally, hanging on to their homes by their fingernails. Photo credit: Anastasia Arsentyeva

~What was your inspiration behind the style and direction?

AB: We had the intention to make something cinematic that stood out from all the Covid-19 news everyone was hearing. Our central concern was: what visual would capture attention? I wanted the audience to get the same feeling I got when I learnt about their plight, and I wanted do this in as few words as possible. 

During the time of the production, I had my own issues with where I was living in my flat, to the point where I literally stopped paying rent as nothing was being sorted by the landlord. I just kept thinking, how can this government ask us to stay at home during the pandemic, when where I’m living is uninhabitable? It really angers me.

It’s been a privilege listening to everyone’s stories within this community – yet it amazes me that Pemberstone, who owns the land and the houses, hasn’t even bothered to meet the residents in person. There seems to be a lack of landlord accountability and security that affects the lives of people in rented accommodation across the whole country.

~How have you felt about the film’s growing profile and audience reactions?

AB: The original intention was to make a film for the people of Leeds, to draw their attention to what was happening. Then, being selected for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) changed everything, as it brought the film, and the community’s story, to a global audience. It shows how the film is resonating with audiences everywhere, and it’s been overwhelming.

~What longer-term impact would you like the film to have in the future?

AB: The best thing that could come from the film and this growing international attention is that it contributes to a resolution where the community can stay together in Oulton in their homes. 

There have been a lot of negative things happening in the world recently and attention is easily directed elsewhere, but this story is still on-going outside of our film. I said before screening the final film to the residents that, regardless of what happens, this film captures a moment in time when people came together to fight for what was right – and that in itself – is a beautiful thing.

Huge thanks from SaveOurHomesLS26 to Alfie Barker and the filming team for capturing our plight so powerfully.

You can stream Hanging On for free until the 17 October. Visit the BFI London Film Festival website.

Hanging On has been selected for a number of prestigious film festivals: 

At Encounters, Hanging On won two top awards:

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