How a small organisation is using cinema to help fuel their local food banks.
In the most memorable scene of Ken Loach’s harrowing I, Daniel Blake, a single mother played by Hayley Squires visits a food bank with her children. Overcome by hunger after days of going without food, she shovels cold baked beans from the shelves into her mouth, before breaking down in tears when she is caught in the act. It’s a moment of extraordinary desperation, played exquisitely by Squires, and serves as a hammer blow of emotional power in the film. For many people in this country, it was also a culture shock.
Loach’s movie landed in UK cinemas on the heels of a Palme d’Or win in Cannes and immediately made an impact, especially at one particularly unique screening a few months after its release. Tickets were free, but the organisers asked for each audience member to bring along a donation of non-perishable supplies for the local food bank. The organisers were Hannan Majid and Richard York, and the event was the latest in their run of special screenings under the umbrella of Films For Food.
Hannan and Richard, who make documentaries through their production company Rainbow Collective, started Films For Food in 2014, inspired by a podcast about a similar initiative based around football. “At the time, our business was going through a bit of a rough patch and I had to use a food bank,” says Hannan. “Through that, I got to see how food banks work. We’re activists and any work we do has to have some sort of social value. It’s a good way to do the stuff that we love – watching and showing movies – but anyone who comes to watch them is going to be doing something positive for their community.”
The duo soon began to cultivate links with food banks in London and were able to screen one of their own documentaries, filmed in Bangladesh, at the independent Rich Mix Cinema in Shoreditch. The only price for admission was a bag of non-perishable food, toiletries or other items suitable for donation to a local food bank. Since then, Films For Food screenings have taken place at venues across London, showcasing a diverse range of documentaries alongside panel discussions and director Q&As.
Hannan told Film Stories that “it happened really quickly. At the first event, people got really engaged because they had not heard of the idea before. A food bank was still kind of a new thing. We showed it wasn’t that hard to do something. We created a platform for people to do something and get something in return.” “There was a long, slow reality check as we started to realise we were seeing much more poverty in this country,” says Richard. “We had been up close to a lot of poverty over the years, but we realised it was all here in London now. We had always been looking for solutions to problems in communities, and meeting the people trying to solve those problems, but now it’s our communities as well. “A lot of our energy had to end up turning inwards, rather than looking out from London or from the UK. It’s not like a brainwave. It’s just what happens in countries where you have widespread poverty, and that’s what England is now.”
In the four years that Films For Food has been running, the range of films at the events has widened, from British grassroots features to handpicked gems from the festival circuit. Last year, they were able to screen Sonia Kennebeck’s drone warfare doc National Bird, and one of their most recent events spotlighted the British film Nae Pasaran, focusing on Scottish engineers in the 70s who refused to repair jet engines used by Chilean forces in Pinochet’s military coup.
For Hannan and Richard, the films they choose are often documentaries based around social issues, including a recent run of films focused on housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. For them, it’s important that the movies they show highlight important issues in modern society. That was their motivation for showing I, Daniel Blake – a rare use of a fiction film as a result of a story that obviously chimed neatly with their central idea. As well as links with food banks, Hannan and Richard have forged a long-running connection with the East End Film Festival, staging a number of big events. On the opening day of the 2017 festival, a screening of West Side Story at Old Spitalfields Market raised more than 500kg of supplies.
Films For Food events have also proved popular at the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival, including an outdoor, pedal-powered showing of Pixar’s Coco in the grounds of a housing estate. “It’s about how we democratise cinema,” says Hannan. “What we have been doing is taking the films to those places. We do the screenings in estates, in community centres, in venues which are accessible to these communities. The size of donation doesn’t matter.” Films For Food is set to continue to put on events into 2019, from film festival collaborations through to regular events at DIY Space for London in Southwark.
Hannan and Richard estimate that they raise an average of a tonne of food each year. Hannan added that “we’ve now set up a Films Freeway link on the website as well. We want to encourage filmmakers to submit, so we can find some little gems. We can’t just idly sit by. We have to do something. A network has been created with us, filmmakers, venues, campaign groups and we have to work together now to make sure these events happen.” With more than 1.3 million three-day emergency supply packages handed out between April 2017 and March 2018, according to the Trussell Trust, events like Film For Food are potentially helping to offer a crucial service to people like Hayley Squires’ character in I, Daniel Blake. Anyone who has seen the film knows just how important that assistance can be.
Discover more about Films For Food, and how to get involved, over at rainbowcollective.co.uk/filmsforfood