News / City Life

Meet the film director shining a light on the gentrification of south London

Shola Amoo
Andy Parsons

The new film ‘A Moving Image’ reflects on the gentrification of Brixton. Its director Shola Amoo, who grew up down the road in Elephant & Castle, explains what drove him to document his area’s changing face…

‘I went to school at Geoffrey Chaucer in Elephant & Castle, now known as Globe Academy. It was a notorious institution, with characters worthy of a stage performance. There’s nothing quite like seeing a teacher get into a fist fight with a student after a cussing match involving each other’s mums. This mixture of tragedy and comedy was a constant feature of my upbringing in Elephant.

Later, I studied for an MA at the National Film and Television School in Buckinghamshire – a slightly more monochromatic space than Elephant. Now I’ve made my debut feature film, and it’s directly inspired by the changes I’ve seen in south London.

My good friend, the film’s producer Rienkje Attoh, was born and raised in Brixton, and we would often chat about the changes in our communities. Having spent time in Harlem and Brooklyn, I noticed that my contemporaries over there were having similar conversations. With ‘A Moving Image’, I wanted to show a particular perspective on gentrification: one that could explore the connection between race, class and art, whilst questioning the value of art in the face of systemic change.

In my NFTS days, there was nothing better than coming back to Elephant & Castle tube and heading straight to the Guyanese food stall for a helping of curry goat and spinach rice, or an empanada from one of the Latino businesses around the shopping centre. The old Elephant & Castle pub was another favourite spot of mine. It was rough around the edges, but the unique gumbo of Latino, African, Caribbean, Polish and white working-class customers made it special.

Around the same period, I also spent a lot of time working at a community centre on the nearby Aylesbury Estate, engaging the local residents through the arts, and learning that ‘community’ was not some abstraction based on the proximity of flats and houses, but something bigger: a pertinent political and social engagement.

Now all these places have changed beyond recognition, or are about to. The shopping centre faces redevelopment, and the traders have been campaigning to participate in the new vision of Elephant. Having seen what happened to the local businesses recently evicted from the railway arches in Brixton, I understand their concerns.

The pub shut down and was replaced with a shinier version of itself, retaining its name if not its character. In the transition between the pub’s old and new guises, a group of squatters took over the building in the hope of saving it from its mooted future as a branch of Foxtons. I would visit them and we would talk about gentrification in south London and beyond.

The Aylesbury, like the recently demolished Heygate estate in Elephant, is in the process of being redesigned and reimagined. The question remains whether the new versions of these places will be able to foster the same diversity and community spirit as their previous iterations. There are no easy answers when it comes to this topic, but I hope the film can broaden the debate.’

A Moving Image’ opens exclusively at the Ritzy and Hackney Picturehouse on April 28 and at cinemas across the UK from May 5.

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