Co-Director of ‘Almost Liverpool 8’, ALLAN MELIA, writes about the background to his new film, and gives us an insight into why he feels Liverpool 8 is the best of us…
I live in the area known as the Bread Streets in the Dingle, just around the corner from The Florrie. I moved here with my partner nearly three years ago and we love it. On sunny days half of the neighbourhood is out on their deckchairs, soaking up the rays and admiring the view of the river and the Welsh hills as people pass down Grafton St in the foreground.
Lately there’s been an abundance of paddling pools too, many of them carefully setup outside the steep Victorian terraces looking down to the Mersey. The adults have been busy also- making planters, benches, and bird boxes for the streets, turning unused spaces into shared gardens.
On the other side of L8 live the other two team members of Shut Out The Light; Dan (producer and director) and Christie (producer and editor), just off Princes Avenue. It’s nice to be able to walk to each other’s houses and see the many different sides of the area on the way. From mine, that’s the towering Grain Estate on Mill St, then a nice view of the Anglican Cathedral before walking the Welsh Streets, and onto Princes Boulevard, catching a glimpse of the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church and the start of the Georgian Quarter beyond. Not a bad walk.
Rewinding back to 2019: the idea for our film, Almost Liverpool 8, was born during a trip to London. Following a screening of another of our films, Dan went to see the Don McCullin retrospective at TATE Britain. He was looking forward to seeing the work of one of his favourite photographers displayed in the iconic gallery.
Alongside the veteran photographers’ images of war-torn countries and landscapes, McCullin’s street photography of English towns and cities were of particular interest; Bradford, County Durham, London and Liverpool. A number of the MucCullin’s Liverpool photographs were taken in Liverpool 8.
Dan wondered, is this still the view of L8 that visitors take away? One of these photographs in particular started us on the journey to make Almost Liverpool 8. It was an image of a young girl vaulting a puddle to a backdrop of demolished homes. Where exactly was it taken and who is that girl?
On returning from London, Dan gave me a call to see what I thought about making a documentary on Liverpool 8 using the McCullin image as a starting point, but with the idea to paint a true picture of what the area looks like today.
We talked about all of the interesting stuff we see and relate to; a vibrant working-class culture, a bustling monthly market, the Turner prize winning Granby Four Streets and the multitude of inventive community organisations that improve lives and offer opportunity.
We also wondered why this has never been represented on film before. As Joe Farrag, community organiser, says in our film, “If you Google Toxteth all negative things come up. Google Liverpool 8 and positive things come up”. We felt it was time to focus on the positive things in our area.
We also wanted to track down the modern-day location of this Don McCullin photograph, believed to be in our postcode, and document the hunt.
As an independent film company from Liverpool 8, Shut Out The Light have an admiration and interest for the place we live, particularly the area of Toxteth, or L8 as it’s known locally.
An area where synagogues, mosques and churches sit shoulder-to-shoulder and Yemeni, Syrian and Caribbean restaurants can be found side by side. Toxteth is the world in one postcode. So how were we going to represent this in a film?
This is always the most difficult question to grapple with early on because it informs the entire project, and when you’re representing real people and real life you want to do nothing more than represent this in its best light. We needed to head to the heart of the community and find the new generation of poets and artists, find the photographers, beekeepers, shopkeepers, and people that make ‘L8’ a model example of a modern community.
The architecture and landscape are a key part of this too. Liverpool 8 boasts over 400 listed buildings, alongside abandoned homes, and food banks. We needed to show all of this if we were staying true to our aims.
The visual style of the film is one based on the art of photography using a static camera and minimal movement. We wanted to capture real moments just like a street photographer would. The team started with the places they frequent in the area, from Al Rahma Chicken shop to Peter Kavanagh’s pub, and each interview subsequently lead on to another.
Soon we had a long list of interviewees of all ages and backgrounds, to truly represent the “multi-cultural, multi-sexual, easy-going” place they all call home. My highlight of our many contributors was probably Barry Chang, a legendary beekeeper who many people from L8 know. It was incredibly interesting learning how bees react to people and the way they work together and how we, as humans, can learn from bees.
Our documentary is a love letter to Liverpool 8: a diverse, thriving, modern community. A single postcode which represents the country in its best light.
As for our location hunt for the photograph that started it all off? You’ll just have to come and see the film to find out!
Almost Liverpool 8 is made by Shut Out The Light, and is co-directed by Daniel Draper and Allan Melia. It is produced and edited by Christie Allanson.
The premiere is at the Philharmonic Hall on 1st September – tickets are on sale now.