Charting the rises and falls of the new town model by using Basildon in Essex, one of many towns hastily built to house the many working class people pouring out of bomb damaged and slum-filled parts of large UK cities after the war, New Town Utopia offers an insight into the way of life in a town who’s history and culture had to be made by its first residents.
Director Christopher Ian Smith keeps it personal by interviewing residents and letting them tell the story of the town using traditional talking heads, which are periodically broken up by poetry performances by local artists and accompany visual montages of Basildon’s mid-century brutal aesthetic. The film devotes a good chunk of time to personal responses to the polarising architecture that was so popular to architects midway through the 20th century, some residents despising the cold concrete, some admiring the way it complimented the futuristic vision for the town.
Smith focuses in particular on Basildon as a hotbed of artistic activity, exploring the idea that towns need spaces and funding for their residents to express themselves, but even government cuts won’t stop artists and musicians from creating their work.
What’s so effective about the film is that it’s a story about working class people, told by working class people. This is important because it lets people who actually live in the places designed for them by upper classes (who would never actually have to live in the places they design), evaluate its effectiveness as a place to make a home.
New Town Utopia may be a film that is more personally rewarding to viewers with a connection to Basildon, but the effects that austerity has on communities can be understood by a national audience. It is an honest, hopeful examination of the history and potential future of the places we choose to call home.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Ian Smith
SYNOPSIS: A journey of memory, place and performance guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by their creative spirit to improve their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.