HALF WAY chronicles the experience of a family of three women trapped in a homeless limbo. One of these women is filmmaker Daisy, who offers exclusive insight into family life with her mother Beverly and sister Bronte: one of the many ordinary families in Britain who have lost their home and are at the mercy of a national housing crisis. Anthony Davis spoke to Daisy after the screening of HALF WAY at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse.
Anthony Davis: So here you were, with your own mum and younger sister, and we have a birthday during the course of the film for Bronte, your sister – how old was she when you learned you’d be losing your home?
Daisy Hudson: She was thirteen years old. By the end of the film, she’s fifteen. You see her grow from a child to a woman.
AJD: You were away at Manchester University, reading English, and you were in the middle of working on your dissertation when you learned – Mum can’t keep this place any more. What was that like for you?
DH: It was extremely strange and alien. I wasn’t aware of the issue of families becoming homeless. You associate it with rough sleeping and things like that, so the fact that we even were being made homeless I didn’t really understand. And it was really devastating because I could see already, before I’d even moved into the hostel, the stress that I was causing my mum. She dealt with a lot of guilt and anxiety. You believe it’s your job to put a roof over your child’s head, and when that ability was taken away through no fault of her own, that really affected her. I’m happy if my family are happy, and I noticed very quickly that they were unhappy in that situation, and that’s when it started to affect me.
AJD: The chronology of the film is marked with captions so you know where you are, but the film really begins with your graduation. There you are on the stage, and we’ve seen your mum in a nice ra-ra dress having a good time, celebrating that you got a good degree. And yet you know that you’re returning to this very difficult situation. So where did the impetus come to turn this into a film?
DH: When I got the phone call from my mum to say we would be losing our home, I got the train back home to help put stuff in boxes and try and process what was going on. At that point I went to the pub with my friends. I don’t usually show my emotions or get upset, and I remember just crying and crying in this pub. It was at that point my friends said, “why don’t you make a film about it?”. And I’d never made a film before. I didn’t really think about it like that, but I knew I wanted to get into documentary. So I started filming, in between being at uni and coming back to sort out the boxes. Once I’d finished uni and moved into the hostel, that’s when I was filming every day.
AJD: Where did your interest in documentary come from?
DH: I was studying English Literature and Drama, and there was a module on the theory of documentary. I became very interested in it as a tool for connecting people’s experiences and creating empathy. I’m really interested in people, and communication. There was a documentary library and I used to watch old filmmakers’ work. I think in some respect that influenced me, but also not having been to film school to learn storytelling, the other part of it was kind of completely intuition in a way that I used to just think …
AJD: It comes across as very good intuition! You’re only going to show the best of what you filmed. There’s a sense of immediacy, of being there in the moment. Perhaps for you it was a therapeutic process, too, as maybe it was for your mum.
DH: I think there is a truth and a rawness and emotional honesty that perhaps wouldn’t have happened for an outside filmmaker, because me and my mum and sister are very close. I used to hold the camera quite low down so it would be like they were talking to me and not a camera. That genuineness makes them so likeable, it makes the audience feel like a part of that relationship, I think. The world that I wanted to create was – when I was in the hostel, what stuck out to me, what interlinked with my mental health, what did I want to run away from? All those things were where I chose to point the camera.
AJD: What was it about your course that drew you to vérité in telling your family’s story? Were there social or political influences that led you away from drama to documentary?
DH: It was about realness and the lure of truth, and the fact that you can’t run away from it. By allowing people to see a little bit of yourself in an honest sense – there is an attraction to documentary because we’re told it’s authentic and truthful, so if I want to show what life’s like in other people’s shoes it’s the perfect tool.
“I want this film to be used as a tool for social change…”
JD: People may not always appreciate that it’s 100+ hours distilled down to 93 minutes. Were you editing as you went along?
DH: I used to wake up in the morning and upload all the rushes and watch what I had, and note down things that I thought were really powerful to me, my mum or my sister. And I also used to write down themes, and things that really stuck out to me mentally. It’s quite strange to characterise your family and write themes about your own experience. But that book really helped. Then the editor watched through all the rushes. We had the natural ending, so we had a conversation about what story we tell in between – how we show the process of time. That was something really important because I wanted the audience to understand how isolating, desperate and claustrophobic it felt – but you also don’t want to bore an audience!
AJD: You are not a lot in the film yourself. You’re more asking, filming. With some difficult moments, at any point your mum or Bronte could have said, “We don’t want you to include that in the film”. But they didn’t. You get the clear sense that the situation’s really stressful and demoralising, and where’s the hope in that?
DH: The thing for me was a sense of humour that I really wanted to get across. You needed the humour in order for it not to feel like victimisation, or wallowing in your own life. That balance was very important. With that much footage, I was able to choose what to leave in. I felt like I had to be honest with the audience and leave some of the harder moments in – because it was hard at some points. It did shift the family dynamics, and that’s a reality that people need to see. I want this film to be used as a tool for social change, so people need to see the harsh realities of what it’s like. But there were moments that I chose not to put in as well.
AJD: But even with documentary, by omission or inclusion you will tell a different story.
DH: I could have told a hundred different versions but there was only one true version. Being in that hostel is like being in a limbo where you don’t really have an end goal. You don’t know how long you’re gonna be in there, there’s not a lot of information that you get. So when the court date happened it offered us a time frame, allowed us to jump through that hoop and then we knew where to go. Those moments are really important when you’ve been living without anything for so long. It’s really strange to explain.
AJD: What wider message would you want to convey to people about the way the council will interpret their duties – if you challenge them, and look for instance at the bill for your mum’s solicitor’s work – why was all this expense incurred? For what?
DH: Yeah, as I say in the film, that could be a deposit for a house. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. There is a strange power that the council hold over you – they can refuse you, they can tell you where to live. I understand why there’s a shortfall in housing, there does have to be some kind of limitation, but at what point does a mother’s belief in what’s right for her child come up against people in offices telling you where you should live?
AJD: Is that experience something you’re now building on in your filmmaking – to look at how these things help or don’t help, these legislative processes laid down by guidelines and case law?
DH: I think that’s something after the theatrical release I want to get my teeth stuck into. Local policy, the use of language – specifically in housing for this film, but where I want to take my authorial voice is, there’s a lot of battles to be had in the UK regarding bureaucracy, representation of the working class, women… there’s so much I want to focus on and I feel I have a strong voice.