Britain’s most famous documentary filmmaker, Nick Broomfield’s first film, Who Cares? was made as a student at Essex University, using a borrowed camera.
The film features Jim and Ethel Singleton, from Melville Place, whose housing conditions were highlighted in the Guild Gazette feature of 10 December 1968, Shocking conditions in university housing. They were active in the Abercromby Tenants’ Association and the events that led up to the protest at the opening of Senate House by Princess Alexandra.
Later, they would be rehoused and feature in Nick Broomfield’s third film, Behind the Rent Strike (1974).
Nick Broomfield was born in London in 1948. He made his first film, Who Cares? (1971), with financial aid from the British Film Institute while studying politics and law at Essex University. Its subject is a close-knit but threatened working class community in Liverpool, and the influence of Willmott and Young’s classic study Family and Kinship in East London is clear, but even in this early work Broomfield’s characteristic sense of personal involvement is already apparent; as he himself put it: “everything at university was at a very conceptual, analytical level, and I felt a need to look at things in a more immediate way.”
Described as ‘honest, raw and confrontational’, this 18-minute black and white film communicates the resentment felt by the close-knit Liverpudlian working class community of Abercromby, angered at the demolition of their homes by the local council. After a compulsory purchase order, they were forced to leave the neighbourhood where the same families had been living for generations, relocating to alienating high-rise flats on the outskirts of the city.
The film was later used as evidence at the Royal Commission hearing on slum clearance and re-housing. These tales encapsulate the effect on a community when developers and architects fail to consider the residents’ emotional lives in their grand visions of urban renewal.
Residents reminisce about the area’s community spirit, housewives chat on doorsteps and children play in the streets. Broomfield’s camera peers through a broken window at a block of high-rise flats in the distance, highlighting the fracturing of the community. Amid the rubble of the demolished houses children throw stones at a burning car and smash windows, while infants play among piles of bricks – a far cry from the innocent street scenes of hopscotch and ballgames seen earlier – a visual metaphor for the breakdown of community spirit.
Rehoused to new homes in tower blocks on the outskirts of the city, the tension is palpable, the emotional anxiety overwhelming. We see residents trapped in their flats, staring out over balconies, looking bewildered, lost. The elderly survive on the nourishment of happier memories; the young cling to the hope that someday they will live somewhere else.