Its director, Sarah Turner, introduced it as something of a multimedia installation presented in traditional documentary film form (or words to that effect), and certainly Public House feels like a film that would be suited well to a non-traditional setting. It is made up of a variety of styles and textures, and when it’s presented on a cinema screen as a linear two-hour experience, it feels somehow overextended — though that’s not to demean any of its individual parts or participants. The film is staged as a series of dialogues, leaning heavily on overlapping voices commingled with the sounds of the pub and of the neighbourhood, much in the nature of pub conversation, and touches on themes of gentrification (what does it mean to be a “local”), place and community. In this respect, it is a story of increasingly tenuous gathering places for people in our ever more commodified inner cities, and it takes as its specific subject The Ivy House pub in south-east London, though it could be any community pub in London. The Ivy House had been sold by its pub company to greedy property developers in 2013, and then rescued and bought by a group of locals to be run as a so-called ‘Asset of Community Value’ under recently-introduced localism laws. As part of the film’s focus on the community, the pub’s regulars are called on to take part in communally-organised events of the nature the pub now hosts, including poetry readings, dance lessons and folk music sessions. A few faces stick out, but mostly the film contents itself with presenting the group, and thus (poetry readings aside), no one person is allowed to dominate either the visual or aural space of the film. So, yes, on the one hand it’s unquestionably an art project (with all that this entails), but it’s also a passionate love letter to what it means to be part of a community, and the place the pub has within that.
Director/Writer Sarah Turner; Cinematographers Turner, Matthew Walter and Nicola Daley; Length 120 minutes.
Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Monday 12 October 2015.