Friday 23:45

2023 | 
United Kingdom | 
6:23 mins | 
A solo project and personal reflection on poverty and its affects.


by Cole Diment

“I don’t want to make this film”, says filmmaker Gemma Whitworth in her film Drowning. One can understand why. Recounting, rehashing, reliving and representing the slow trauma of poverty is something no person who experienced it wishes to do. However, there’s a necessity to this film. In a country deep in a 10 year plus Tory rule, pushed to the brink by the present cost of living crisis, film’s like these bear an important role in challenging dominant narratives. Not least to say in making voices heard.

Drowning gives an intriguing take on the question of representing poverty. All too often, and as Whitworth points out, poverty porn style documentaries, social realist style docs that still grace our screen, continue to be imbued with a middle class lens and a distance from their subjects. Drowning avoids the fetishisation of poverty by taking us out of this style and into a psycho-geographical state. The images of disrepair and water damage first of all brings us the state of social housing in the UK, a dire and underfunded institution. Moving on, Whitworth’s voiceover imbues the images with the qualities of mental space associated with these environments. The disrepair expressed in the images thus functions on many levels; as an indicator of poor housing, as expressive of a mental space and of how these two are interwoven, causing each other over and over again in an aggressive cycle.

The slowness of the film shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of calm. All too simply we associate anything slow with a calm and pleasant experience that sits as an alternative to our busy digital age. But as Whitworth’s film shows us, slowness is not in contradiction to our age but the experience of thus shunted and forced to its margins. Indeed, the slowness of poverty is a void, an ever present mire of depression and anxiety. The images express this in a very acute and nuanced sense; somewhere between stillness and motion, most images seem as still photographs. However, the introduction of movement in one shot, the water damage and leak from the ceiling, makes present the slow decay associated with the experience of poverty. Sometimes, the slide is so slow that it seems imperceptible. Yet the decay of years bears visible marks.