Monday, 3 June 2013

"What it's like when money's tight" - Austerity on film

When life is tough, jobs are scarce, and money doesn’t go as far as it used to, how do people cope? With the recent release of Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby, which depicts extravagant consumption prior to the Great Depression of 1930s America, there’s no better time to reflect on what it means to be ‘well-off’ or ‘poor’ in our current age of austerity.

Open City Docs Fest are thinking about what the economic decisions made by the people in power actually mean for our everyday lives. We’re showing three films that discuss how people cope with feeling the squeeze and what it’s like to come face to face with hardship: Iceland, Year Zero (Iceland), To The Wolf (Greece) and Jaywick Escapes (UK), the latter having the added bonus of super-affordable tickets starting from just £6.

Austerity is inescapable: you can’t go anywhere without reading a news story, Facebook post or Tweet about it. Certainly families and businesses are feeling the effects, with unemployment growing to 2.52 million in March according to ONS statistics. Economic crisis has been in the news for so long now that it’s hard to remember what it actually means for an economy to collapse. Iceland, Year Zero is an evocative depiction of the aftermath of the collapse of the three main Icelandic banks in 2008, which caused thousands of people to lose their jobs, their savings and their dreams. Sigorour Hallmar Magnusson and Armande Chollat-Namy's film provides a very human perspective on financial meltdown. Buy tickets HERE.

Today’s definition of austerity is primarily about constraining economic policies, coupled with the political vision that we need to get ‘back to basics’ and cut ‘frivolous’ spending. The recent Greek economic crisis is a case in point, as Greece’s high levels of national debt, in conjunction with low national income, meant that they had to accept a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to save the country from going completely bankrupt. The bailout loan came with conditions, however, one of which was that the government had to introduce austerity measures to help balance the country’s books. Not only was the Greek economy in crisis, but life was only going to get tougher for the Greek people, as any cuts to public spending come at a price. Less public spending means less money for government-provided services such as welfare, healthcare, and education, all of which are needed more than ever when a country is in recession.

Get to grips with how austerity changes traditional ways of life forever, with our screening of To The Wolf by Christina Koutsospyrou and Aran Hughes which follows the lives of two shepherd families in a remote village high up in the Nafpaktia mountains. Combining documentary and fiction with an all-local cast, To the Wolf is both the reality and an unsettling allegory of today's Greece. Buy tickets HERE.

With the Greek economy as an alarming example, what’s happening closer to home? Only last week, UK Chancellor George Osborne decided to continue to cut public spending, in spite of the disapproval from the latest IMF report. Osborne’s cuts to benefits as detailed at length in the national press will affect many people across the country, and this clampdown on public spending prompts the question ‘are people’s livelihoods considered a needless expense?’ Economic recession and austerity measures affect certain areas and certain people more than others. New data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that the poor have been hit hardest by the financial crisis and cuts to welfare spending may increase inequality further. Here at Open City Docs Fest we’re looking at how people make the best of things and retain their livelihoods when times are hard. Jaywick Escapes is a moving study of what is officially Britain’s most deprived place. The Essex town of Jaywick promises sea views at bargain rents, and this film by Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope follows three newcomers who see Jaywick as a chance for a fresh start. Buy tickets HERE

Through our film screenings at Open City Docs we hope to explore what austerity and recession really mean to the people who are affected by it.

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