The new Guardian documentary follows the innovative activities of a volunteer support network, the Daisy Chain. For seven months, filmmaker Sky Neal immersed herself in the community of St Just, the most westerly town in England. As food producers and business owners in the town struggle to survive the first lockdown, how will they find the resilience to pull together and face a second wave with winter approaching?
What inspired you to make this film?
The town of St Just has strange depths, with a landscape littered with remnants of lost industries and ancient prehistoric sites, its bleak rugged coastline often immersed in a deep, eerie fog. When I heard about the Daisy Chain it immediately captured my attention. The idea of this metaphoric chain of humans weaving throughout this tiny peninsula at the end of the land, taking care of each other and striving for a more caring and resilient community struck me as a beautiful story that was really needed at such a strange time.
What was your creative approach?
With the descent of Covid and the strict lockdown restrictions it was obviously a tricky time to be approaching people to make a film, so it helped enormously that I had such personal connections. My overall aim was that audiences would experience the important themes at the heart of the film but through the reflections and epiphanies of the contributors. That it wouldn’t feel like a campaign film but would have the effect of triggering thought about where our food is coming from, the fragility of our dependence on the global supply chain, how heavy our footprints are, and how community resilience is key for sustainability.
It was safer to film outside rather than indoors and that actually became a strength of the film because the natural world means so much to every one of my contributors. I wanted to reflect the coherence of this community and for it to feel like a weaved tapestry of interconnected lives, and this became an interesting creative challenge to transcend into a collective story arc. The recurring radio motif served to help mark the passage of time as well as connect us with the national climate.
You say much was unknown but the film feels particularly resonant now that we are heading into winter and a second wave?
Yes, as this film is being released there is a significant light being shone on food poverty, and once again we see a national movement of communities working together to protect the most vulnerable. It’s a time when so many of us have been seriously reflecting on how sustainable our lives are and how much inequality, isolation, stress and environmental damage is generated by our current economic model.
In Cornwall, where neighbourhoods number among some of the most deprived in the country, this crisis has forced many of us to think about what it means to have such a fragile economy that has lost or almost lost its key industries, and been forced to become overly dependent on tourism. A depressing £41m out of £177m coronavirus small business grants went straight out of the county to owners of holiday homes. Supermarkets have had a major impact on the self-sufficiency of all communities, and this time has shown us that, as we face so many unknowns, we have to start investing in and strengthening our local economies.
Who were the team that shaped this film?
This was a wonderful film to make – how often do you get a chance to show the little pocket you grew up in to the rest of the world? St Just has an exceptional community. There is something about being at the end of the land exposed to the elements that creates a hardy and creative bunch, and a wicked sense of humour to match.
West Cornwall is a hive of creative talent, so I was lucky enough to be able to put together a strong team from the local area – brilliant editors, Robin Simpson (who is from the centre of St Just) became a solid force behind the film throughout the seven months, and Melissa Warren really helped me wrestle the narrative and tease out the character journeys. Morgan Lowndes, a great cinematographer who has worked on the Poldark series among many others, helped bring the sense of movement into the film with his great gimbal work from his push bike, as well as some superb scenic shots, and Nick Harpley who came in last minute and pulled the lovely soundtrack out of his hat in a few short days. But also the contributors themselves were really key to the creative journey.
As with all my films I like to make the process as collaborative as possible – it always adds nuances to the film I would not have found alone.
About the filmmaker: Sky Neal is a producer/director and founder of Satya Films. Her BFI and Sundance supported feature documentary Even When I Fall (2018), received numerous awards, nominations and official selections including a British Independent Film Award nomination. Sky has been making films since 2006 after graduating from a Visual Anthropology masters at Goldsmiths University. Her work is often rooted in human rights (Including Children at Work, Series for BBC, 2013, Nepal’s Lost Circus Children, Al Jazeera English, 2012) and Satya Films’ current slate includes films resonating with migration, gender and identity.
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