Architecture Foundation Nubia Way Documentary (Copyright © Architecture foundation, 2022)

“Community” is as much a verb as it is a label

Of the many wonderful things I took away from Nubia Way, directed by Timi Akindele-Ajani, produced by Rosine Gibbs-Stevenson and Rochelle Malcolm and Will Jennings’ An English Garden (e.g. discovery of Fusions Jameen; new details of the activism of Cressingham Gardens’ residents; and a renewed appreciation of vintage film effects) there are two thoughts in particular that float to the top of my mind. These are as follows:

“Community” is as much a verb as it is a label
Document, document, document!

Lately, I find myself recoiling at the use of the word “community”. I’ve noticed its proliferation in an array of bizarre contexts and at both ends of the power scale – and it fills me with unease. From billionaire-owned tech companies like Spotify (which refers to “communities” of advertisers, investors, artists etc while preventing the latter from earning a living) to predatory real-estate developers, the term has become a feel good buzzword that deliberately misrepresents egregious profiteering. At the same time, “community” has also evolved into a parasocial catch-all applied by individuals to groups with whom they identify but have never engaged in any meaningful way. Whether conscious or unconscious, both instances represent an overuse of the word “community”, creating a vagueness that undermines its true power.

Nubia Way and An English Garden snaps us back to a meaningful definition of the term. The films portray the true stories of strangers and friends who then became neighbours, who then became part of something bigger than themselves through collective designing and building; unity and resistance. We see it taking shape in Nubia Way as the self-builders work on each other’s houses in all kinds of weather; share tools and skills; fall out and reconcile; and pair-up on night watches to prevent racist attacks from the National Front. In An English Garden, the narrator shares how residents of Cressingham Gardens pop out on errands for the elderly; notice the absence of people who’ve fallen ill; take care of children growing up on the estate; and organise to prevent the demolition of their homes. Both films demonstrate how “community” is made and remade everyday through continuous exchange, conflict, compromise and co-existence. It’s radical. It’s real. And it is the definition we ought to hold on to for dear life as we continue to navigate the world beyond this cinema.

Nubia Way and An English Garden also highlight the importance of documentation. Honestly, I could hug Leonard Guy! Without him we wouldn’t have quite so much visual evidence of Nubia Way’s two-and-a-half-year process, its joyful moments and its terrifying ones. While Nubia Way owes its structure to interviews with original self-builders, residents and economists, An English Garden follows a camera that meanders through Cressingham Gardens, sometimes pausing on details, sometimes inside the flats, always alone. The estate is devoid of people as though frozen in time, allowing shots to linger, creating a meticulous and sensitive record of the estate, which soon-to-be-former residents and future generations can revisit. Here, I’m reminded of African-American author and filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston’s words: “if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it”…

In capturing the perspectives and experiences of these residents, Nubia Way and An English Garden are more than just visual records of bricks, mortar, timber, space and light. The films also offer us crucial counter-narratives that challenge those in power.

– Siufan Adey

Set up by local film enthusiast Abiba Coulibaly, Brixton Community Cinema is a pilot-scheme pop-up screening event. The objective of the cinema is to bring affordable international and independent film to a community who, despite immense cultural contributions, face uneven access to arts institutions. Read more here.

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