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Interview ‘People are shocked that this can happen to people they know’

MARK GILLIS tells Cliff Cocker why his film on the impact of austerity on working-class lives is hitting home

WITH Brexit and the birth of another House of Windsor freeloader dominating the mainstream media’s agenda, it’s as if the impact of austerity in brutally unravelling society at the seams exists in some kind of parallel universe.

That’s why any film which points up the harsh realities of working-class life in one of the richest cities in the world is more than welcome in the struggle to effect left political change and Mark Gillis’s excellent film Sink certainly does that.

It had a limited cinema run last year and got some excellent reviews — including in this paper — but now he’s hoping that its release on DVD will get it out there to the wider audience it deserves.

Set in south-east London, it tells the story of skilled manual worker Micky Mason who, after losing his job, is forced to work zero-hour jobs before being made unemployed again.

Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation, he descends into drug-running to survive. It’s a course of action completely out of character but the only way he can see of keeping his family together.

That bleak scenario is all too real for thousands in Britain today, yet Sink has its warm and tender moments and doses of humour in what’s a sensitive portrait of masculinity and three generations of men dealing with the loss of agency over their lives.

It’s about people trying to find their way through and its impact is up there with I, Daniel Blake. In fact, it was shot well before the release of Ken Loach’s film but a shoestring budget meant that post-production dragged out for a couple of years before it could be screened.

Talking to Gillis, it’s clear that despite the herculean task of raising the budget, this is a film he felt had to be made. “I live in the area where the film is set and where there are pockets of people leading very challenged lives,” he says. “There are also the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, looming up seemingly at the end of the road.

“So you have people whose lives have been changed beyond recognition living in the shadow of the institutions directly responsible. They committed fraud on an industrial scale yet nobody has been prosecuted.

“It made me question where we are with that. If people who benefited so hugely from the system can do that with impunity, can we condemn somebody for doing whatever’s necessary to stay afloat? It also made me angry enough to want to write something.”

When he was scripting Sink, he realised that it could be made very cheaply: “I knew exactly who I wanted to cast — I’ve worked as an actor with all of them — I knew whose flat we could borrow and so on. So I decided we’d just go ahead and make it ourselves.”

Crowd-funding, juggling his mortgage and small investors raised £35,000, “which is nothing for a feature but that was with everyone without exception working for the same deferred fees and profit share.”

It’s all very well making a film, he says wryly, but at the end of the process there's the brick wall of distributors asking: “Who’s your lead actor?” Without a star name the vast majority won’t watch the film.

“It’s very tough but we got lucky — a well-known producer saw the film and badgered her distributor to watch it. They picked us up for a limited theatrical release which meant we could get press reviews. The lesson we learned? Don’t imagine you can totally avoid the system if you want your film to find an audience.”

It was clear from the “fantastic discussions” at screenings that people get what the film is about and want to voice their feelings.

“Audiences respond really well to the central character, so there have been a lot of people who have seen Micky’s plight who maybe haven’t been aware of just how grave things are for people,” Gillis says.

“What I think is so damaging about the way working-class characters are presented is that they are seen to be ‘other,’ he stresses. “I was very adamant that these should be real working-class characters and not the stock poverty-porn representations we’re so used to seeing.

“People are shocked to think that this could happen to somebody they knew. Seeing real people in these circumstances makes audiences reassess. They are moved by Micky’s plight and angry about it.”

As a potent riposte to the political establishment’s smoke-screen blanketing austerity, Gillis’s film is one that deserves the widest possible audience — it’s an opportunity the labour and trade union movement should be deploying in its mission to “agitate, educate and organise.”

The DVD of Sink, price £9, is available from vivaverve.com from May 27 and is available for download and streaming now on Amazon tinyurl.com/y2oaf7ov and iTunes tinyurl.com/y264wead. Cliff Cocker is the Morning Star's culture editor. You can contact him by email: cliffcocker@peoples-press.com or on Twitter @cliffordcocker

 

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