My friend Eugène van Erven been documenting community arts for many years, both in his native Netherlands and in other parts of the world. Having provided valuable feedback on the draft text of ‘Where we Dream‘, he’s now written this short piece about Benjamin Wigley’s film, that is an integral part of the work.
Scroll to the end of the post to watch the film: it’s about 15 minutes long.
I have long believed in the combined power of moving images and written words when it comes to documenting cultural phenomena, particularly when they happen in out of the way places. The beautifully produced book and film package ‘Where We Dream’ proves my point.
The film gives a visible face and an audible voice to the many people who inhabit the text and hence makes the story of the West Bromwich Operatic Society even more powerful. It is so much more than an illustrative bonus track.
Dramaturgically, the film is very well constructed in a circular way, focusing on the frantic preparations for the opening of WBOS’s The Producers. We meet the chair of the organization and get to see more than a glimpse of her passion and the sheer amounts of energy she and the other members put into the society. The performers and those working behind the scenes are mostly volunteers and as the film unfolds we discover why they put all this time and effort into it: it provides good times with people from literally all walks of life and, as a garage mechanic puts it: ‘it gives you a purpose in life outside work’.
Just behind the well chosen interviews, the documentary effectively reveals the tangible excitement of opening night jitters. I found the camera work and the editing of excellent quality, with lots of close up shots that bring the viewer close to these people and captures the beauty of regular folks.
Once we know who is involved and why and what it does for them, the rhythm of the film slows down nicely to let Vivien Davis, the WBOS chair, take us back to 1936. We see her flipping through an album of early programme booklets (75 years worth of history) as she tells us that her own enthusiasm was handed down to her by her mom, who herself performed in early WBOS productions. We also learn how she met her late husband and how involvement in the society enriches – no, blends with – people’s lives in a very positive way.
That impression is further confirmed by a young chorus girl, whose entire family has been part of WBOS (grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins), and by the other performers who are interviewed subsequently. One performer met his wife in a WBOS production and now has a kid he wouldn’t have had otherwise. ‘It literally has taken control of me’, he confesses.
Overall, this nicely paced film gives an excellent impression of WBOS, who is involved, and what it does for people. The combination with the text makes this package very valuable – and palatable – indeed.
Eugène van Erven