5 July 2017



'In the 1930s, a group of architects flattened the slums and built the Haggerston Estate. They named its new blocks after Samuel Richardson's characters from his tales of moral improvement, including Clarissa, Lovelace, Pamela and Samuel.'

'In the 1990s, a journalist condemned Haggerston Estate as 'the heroin capital of Europe.' Another called estate residents 'foul-mouthed lazy scroungers, cheats, layabouts, drunks, drug addicts who are totally dependent upon the goodwill of taxpayers.''

Few things are more tempting than getting a private glimpse into other peoples' lives. Alfred Hitchcock knew that perfectly well when he made his smash hit movie REAR WINDOW in 1954, with big Hollywood stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly.

Today we're so desperate for our voyeuristic kicks that we watch television programmes like BIG BROTHER, in which people live out their lives in the public eye so that we can judge them, laugh at their foolishness and their overwhelming need to be so-called 'celebrities' and hope our favourites don't get voted out on a Friday night.

Andrea Luka Zimmerman's excellent documentary, ESTATE, A REVERIE, is another opportunity to take a gratuitous peep into peoples' private lives, but this film has much more substance and meaning than, say, an episode of BIG BROTHER in which a topless model and the guy who's hoping to get into her pants compete for the privilege of getting a couple of bottles of cheap plonk to go with their curried rice.

It's real people we're talking about here, with real lives and real problems, as opposed to the kinda shallow desires of a bunch of nobodies to be somebodies some day. The documentary was filmed over a number of years, from 2008-2014, to be precise. It takes some patience, I think you'll agree, to commit to a project that goes on for that long.

The award-winning Ms. Zimmerman filmed a number of residents who all lived in Hackney's Haggerton Estate, a block of council flats earmarked for a demolition which started, I think, in 2009. Since the demolition, most of the residents have been re-housed in new flats and some of the more elderly tenants have sadly passed away.

Ms. Zimmerman's film shows the residents at home in their flats, living their lives as they would normally live them every day, without putting on any special airs and graces for the camera.

One brightly chipper elderly woman tells us the story of her grandfather, who moved into the Haggerton Estate in 1937, shortly after the flats were built. Where he'd previously lived, he'd kept geese, ducks, his dog, a pony and a donkey. After being told that he couldn't keep any animals at all in his new council flat, he gassed himself and his dog Dinah to death. That's such a heart-breaking story.

The same lady seems to have known the history of the flats inside out and she certainly knew every family that had ever lived in any of the flats and who moved in when who moved out or passed away. That's an awful lot of lives, isn't it, lives that were vitally important at the time to the folks who lived them but who have all largely been forgotten now. That's the way it goes. Life goes on no matter what. It's inevitable but it's no less sad for being so.

One of the older residents was actually old enough to have lived through World War Two and have first-hand experience of ration books and black-outs. To have lived through all that trauma and upheaval and then go on to live for many years more is an incredible achievement. Soon there won't be anyone left who remembers those remarkable years. I find that so sad, and yet, that's life again, isn't it? No-one and nothing can stop the inexorable passage of time.

Many of the elderly residents are suffering from debilitating long-term illnesses like diabetes, Parkinson's disease and general age-related loss of mobility and other things like that. We see a very old man, who's never owned a phone before or even a television, using the film-maker's phone to attempt to organise a home visit for himself from social services, who haven't apparently got the manpower to send someone round to his flat in person.

Instead, they detain him on the phone asking him endless questions. It just doesn't feel like you can make an accurate assessment of someone's situation over the telephone. You can feel the old man's frustration as the awkward call goes on... and on...

One elderly black man, who grows tomatoes in his window-box because 'you can't eat flowers,' hopes that when he dies, his family will bring him back home to, I think, Trinidad or Tobego or somewhere like that and bury him next to his father. I hope that that happens for him as he imagines it, but I can't help wondering if the cost of bringing someone so far away for burial might not be so high as to be prohibitive and may not happen.

I think he's also the same man whose television (rabbit ears firmly in place) hasn't worked since that big annoying digital switchover a few years ago. He says he never heard about it. He has no-one to help him with it so he has to go without a television now. That's just the way it is when you're poor and all alone in the world with no-one to give you a hand with a few jobs.

Another woman would like to go home to Jamaica to live out her days there. I liked the guy who had the government of his country (which sounds quite similar to our own here in the Emerald Isle!) bang to rights. The rich can squander or fiddle away millions of pounds worth of tax-payers' money and get away with it, but if the little guy attempts to so much as squeeze a few extra quid out of Social Welfare, he's practically hung, drawn and bloody quartered. Well said, that man!

One man confesses openly that his life is so grim and hopeless that he'd end it all if it weren't for his pets. We meet Helen, the elaborately coiffed hairdresser whose business will go to the wall when the flats are demolished, because all of her customers come from there.

We see annoying hipsters on an OPEN HOUSE kind of tour of the area taking pictures of the flats because they signify 'urban decay' or some such bollocks which the hipsters love. I feel personally that they're being damned patronising, especially when they ask to take snaps of the residents themselves.

Of course they're going to display them somewhere trendy with captions like 'Local Colour' and 'Local Characters In Their Natural Habitat' and so on. People might even buy the pictures, the thought of which rightly annoys the residents. Why should the hipsters make a packet out of photographing them and their homes, as if they're specimens of an alien species in a laboratory? Bloody cheek!

Damned hipsters. So bloody annoying. I hate too the way that flats-dwellers are looked down on as social misfits and their homes dismissed as slums. The residents of the Haggerton Estate are all lovely, decent folks with some extremely bright, enterprising, intelligent and articulate young people among their number.

Community spirit is very much in evidence too amongst the residents. Some of the orange rectangles used to board up the empty or abandoned flats have had giant blown-up photos of the residents placed over them, and a little dramatic group re-enacts scenes from Samuel Richardson's works. So much for the popular misconception that common flats-dwellers are uneducated yobbos. Humph. At a barbecue to mark the end of the flats erected some seventy-something years before, a symbolic and sombre burning of a dolls' house takes place in the yard.

This wonderful documentary is out now on DVD from SECOND RUN FILMS in a double-bill with another film called TAŞKAFA: STORIES OF THE STREET, an utterly fascinating film about the street dogs of Istanbul. The whole package all together is called TWO FILMS BY ANDREA LUKA ZIMMERMAN and you know what? It does exactly what it says on the tin...!

I'll end by saying this. I'm a single mother of two kids and we live in council flats and guess what? We're all decent normal people, not specimens in a bloody zoo. Take that, hipsters! Come and photograph me if ye dare. I'll squirt ye with my anti-hipster repellent spray. Oh wait, there's no need. A kitschy shop selling over-priced organic tea-cosies and free-range scarves and belts has just opened up in town. And they're off...

More details here:


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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