Written by Joseph Bibby
With the arrival of the Commonwealth Games, Glasgow has the world’s attention, with thousands pouring into a city keen to make a good impression. But while Glasgow is feeling the boon from the tourism this brings, much of the city finds itself wanting. Housing has, for much of Glasgow’s history, been a problem for too many of its citizens, with approximately 40,000 people on the housing waiting list, and 2,000 empty homes in 2012. With a selection of pieces, the Commonwealth Film and Theatre Festival aims to explore the hardships that beset Glasgow’s citizens, and ensure that these issues remain in the public consciousness, rather than being swept aside to make way for the Games.
The first of these pieces is the theatre performance Bloom, a piece that follows the true stories of Michael and Anthony, patrons of the Glasgow City Mission soup kitchen. Their tales are only loosely anchored to the troubles of Glasgow (such as the closing of the Clyde docks affecting a family), instead they depict the personal series of events that led to homelessness. Working with a minimalistic stage (two chairs and two televisions), the piece relies on the performances and the soundscape to communicate the engrossing personal stories, pulling the audience into tales of hope that ultimately spiral into despondency and disappointment. The final sentiment of the piece however is salvation, with the work of the soup kitchen volunteers creating a haven for the homeless, and the plea for donations stressing the possibility of change.
Along with the theatre performance were a trio of shorts that collectively reflected the themes of aspiration and optimism, followed by disillusionment and despair:
Glasgow 1980 chronicles the city’s progress as it marches into prosperity; a propaganda film that predicts the growth and improvements brought about by technological advancements. Not much food for thought on its own, but its optimism is reflective of the high ambitions in the beginning of the Bloom performance, and its screening punctuates the proceeding films, providing the context of anticipation that many felt for Glasgow’s future.
Lament for the Glasgow High Rise is, as its name suggests, a sorrowful grievance for the degradation of the high rise tower blocks that were intended to alleviate the city’s housing problems. Filmed entirely on a mobile phone, the desolate monotone landscapes, and droning music set a grim scene that captures the mood of so many who were promised more than was delivered.
Finally Jaconelli is a short documentary that follows the eponymous Margaret Jaconelli fighting to keep her home against Glasgow City Council. Rounding off the trio, this short examines the eviction of the Jaconelli family from their home in order to make way for the Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately little here is explored regarding the full depth of the case, and rather it is painted very plainly in black and white, casting the Jaconelli family as the heroes who stand up for their home against a merciless city council. It is unclear whether there is a definite antagonist to this tale, and seems more likely that both parties are struggling against hapless situations. What is clear though is the pain and anger caused by the housing problems, and the desperation to rectify it.
In summary, while the pieces on show each have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, the whole is more than the sum of its parts; the combination of the pieces establishes multiple angles for Glasgow’s housing problem to be viewed. The Bloom performance in some senses is the most whole piece, encompassing within its narrative arc the entirety of the short trio’s emotional theme: beginning with the hope that is the planned rebirth of Glasgow’s industry within Glasgow 1980, followed by realisation and disappointment that the planned future is crumbling within Lament for the Glasgow High Rise, and finally with Jaconelli, the fight to build upon the desolation and make the most of what is left of broken down hopes. Experiencing and combining the themes of these pieces endows the audience with a great sympathy, and understanding for the people of Glasgow. The post-war history and true-to-life accounts of hardship accentuate the passion of a nation, as you follow the journey of those who have experienced adversity first-hand; to watch them is to absorb the emotions of people awash with disenchantment, and to route for their survival.
The return of the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow heralds opportunity, not only for athletes, but for the city itself, and the CFTF’s programme contributed towards raising awareness for the importance of such an event in restoring the city to its former well-being. Hopefully the success of the 2014 Games won’t just be a matter of gold, silver, and bronze, but will be in the legacy that is left behind for Glasgow, so that its people can take those steps closer to the Glasgow 1980 vision of a better tomorrow.