“About three years ago now, I started to have this niggling feeling that these buildings wouldn’t be around forever.”
Sydney Film School Artistic Director Ben Ferris sat down to chat about his new film 57 Lawson which has its world premiere at the Sydney Underground Film Festival this Saturday where the filmmaker is also running a directing masterclass. A documentary about the famous public housing blocks in Waterloo and the slated developments for the area, Ferris’ film seeks to capture the daily goings-on at the titular address.
“I’m interested in exploring suspended moments of time and in this case the concept of the film is that it takes place over one night, from twilight into night to dawn and the following day,” explained Ferris, aiming to produce a filmic archive of the now iconic structures. “I thought I’d like to get in and do my bit to preserve what’s here… trying to absorb those particular moments of the day and observe those subtle changes that happen.”
Resting at times on Redfern oval, various vantages surrounding 57 Lawson Street itself and the interiors of the towers, in addition to the tenants facing relocation from their long-standing homes, a discussion between a social worker and one particular occupant towards the end of the film, observed unobtrusively by Ferris, has a particularly jarring impact.
“I was aiming for that sense of witnessing something spontaneous, something real and then archiving it,” elaborated Ferris, who had some difficulty engaging the current tenants in the project before commencing filming.
“The trickiest thing in terms of working with the tenants is when they see a camera their first thought is that it might appear on TV that night on A Current Affair or something and that the portrayal of the area might end up stigmatizing the neighbourhood, that it’ll involve drugs or alcohol or bashings or killing even, and certainly that stuff happens but I had a different agenda. Naturally from the tenants there was some healthy skepticism initially and I had to work through that with them.”
Screening at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre amidst controversy as to the status of the area and its occupants, the quiet, observational approach of the film is liable to engender a number of different reactions.
“It’s not the usual socio-political film that has a clear argument and hits the audience over the head with it,” said Ferris. “It’s quite oblique, I’m curious about how audiences will respond to it and because it’s oblique to see what resonance it has.”
57 Lawson is screening at the Sydney Underground Film Festival – for more information head to the Festival website