This week, we were due to show ROCKS, a British coming-of-age drama from director Sarah Gavron (SUFFRAGETTE, BRICK LANE). Set in London, it tells the story of Shola, also known as Rocks, a fifteen-year-old whose life is turned upside down when she is left alone to look after her younger brother.
With its non-professional cast, who worked on the film around their school commitments, ROCKS brings a refreshing, naturalistic approach to its themes of emancipation and identity. It was picking up much-deserved critical momentum as its release date approached, only for that to be cancelled by the closure of cinemas. At present, the film is unavailable on digital platforms, and it’s a title we hope to feature on screen at a later date.
Instead, we’re going to pick out two films we recommend that are linked to ROCKS in several ways.
Firstly, we’re recommending THE LAST TREE, another British film set in London that features a young person of colour dealing with transformation in their life due to a change in their relationship with their mother.
Partly shot just over the Humber in Lincolnshire, THE LAST TREE is a fresh and thoughtful first-person take on the coming-of-age story. Femi (Sam Adewunmi), a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy rural childhood in Lincolnshire, where he’s raised by doting foster mother Mary and surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends – until his real mum reclaims him and deposits him into a very different life in her small inner-London flat. With little emotional bond to his mother and no remembrance of their cultural heritage, Femi struggles to adapt. As he gets used to his new environment, Femi hardens himself, pulling away from the wishes of both of his ‘mothers’ and forging ahead in a brazen attempt to build his own identity.
Writer / director Shola Amoo pairs a lived-in honesty with a fresh, exciting stylistic panache in this depiction of the crooked –and at times perilous – path to manhood. The lyrical texture of Amoo’s filmmaking both visually and aurally expresses the changes in Femi’s internal state, while this unflinchingly unsentimental coming-of-age film consistently defies our expectations of what will happen next.
The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, received four nominations at the UK National Film Awards and won two prizes at the British Independent Film Awards. It was a film we were proud to give a Yorkshire Premiere to at Hull Film Festival 2019, but if you missed it then or want to enjoy it again, you can find it on services including BFIPlayer, Amazon and You Tube.
Our second recommendation this week is another British film, Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK from 2009 which, like ROCKS, revolves around the story of a fifteen-year-old girl from a deprived background and with a strained relationship with her mother, and stars an actor with no prior experience.
Mia (Katie Jarvis), an unruly fifteen-year-old girl, lives on an Essex estate with her semi-absent mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and precocious little sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths). She’s been expelled, and while waiting for admission to a new school, spends her days aimlessly. When her mother brings home a new boyfriend, Conor (Michael Fassbender), Mia develops an uncertain relationship with him; while he encourages her to invest time in her passion, dancing, is this out of an innocent wish to be a father-figure to her, or something more sinister?
The film made a star of newcomer Katie Jarvis, who had no acting experience and was cast after being spotted arguing with her boyfriend at the railway station in Tilbury, which features in the film. FISH TANK received huge critical acclaim, a Bafta for Best British Film, two awards and six further nominations) at the British Independent Film Awards, and the Jury Prize and a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes among many other prizes.
FISH TANK can be found on a range of digital platforms including BFIPlayer and Curzon Home Cinema.