Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
SEARCH RESULTS FOR
The SWITCH team has checked out their top picks from the Perth Festival - click here to check out the reviews.x
review, Scheme Birds, Scheme, Birds, film, movie, latest movies, new movie, movie ratings, current movie reviews, latest films, recent movies, current movies, movie critics, new movie reviews, latest movie reviews, latest movies out, the latest movies, review film, latest cinema releases, Australian reviews, cinema, cinema reviews, Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin, Documentary

SCHEME BIRDS

★★★★

A GRITTY JOURNEY TO ADULTHOOD IN SCOTLAND

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
LATEST REVIEWS
By Jake Watt
4th August 2019

We’re introduced to Gemma, a fresh-faced blonde “scheme bird” living in a rundown housing estate in the Scottish town of Motherwell, while she’s simultaneously jogging and smoking a dart. She is the plucky teenage protagonist of Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin’s new documentary ‘Scheme Birds’, and an instantly likeable one.

The film follows Gemma from her teens into her early 20s as she spends her time hanging around the suburban “scheme” (“A scheme is like a snobby place to stay,” she informs us in a softly-spoken, poetic and Bjork-like voiceover) and the monolithic housing estate buildings.

The local kids, due to unemployment and boredom, are obsessed with aimless destruction. Their accents are so thick and filled with so much slang that the movie has subtitles. They scrap against one another, graffiti (“All Cops Are Bastards,” Gemma points out on a tag she’s just written on an underpass), play shoot-‘em-up videogames, and pore admiringly over street fighting videos on YouTube. They scream insults (if you’re offended by the word “cunt”, look elsewhere) and roughhouse in ways that could tip from playfulness into aggression in a heartbeat, with no perceptible acknowledgement of the cameraman. Even the hands of a baby are evaluated as potentially being those of a boxer or kickboxer, in terms of potential violence.

Gemma was raised by her grandfather, Joseph, and has no relationship with her biological parents. As it’s described in the movie, her mother is a drug addict who abandoned Gemma as a baby, and her father passed on the responsibility of raising the child to his parents. She works out some of her aggression at a boxing club run by her “poppa”, hitting the heavy bag and slamming the pads until her sweaty hair is plastered down over her forehead. The older man warns her to “stay away from dafties,” but doesn’t realise that his granddaughter is planning a future with her bong-smoking boyfriend Pat, fresh out of his second stint in jail. “If you stay here, you either get locked up or knocked up,” Gemma observes.

Eventually, Gemma flys the coop and we meet her best friend, Amy, and Amy’s boyfriend JP. It’s not a coincidence that an assault with life-altering consequences for one youngster comes after Gemma’s grandfather has cut himself out of her life. In fact, it’s when her friend’s life is drastically altered by this horrific and seemingly random act of violence that Gemma finally reconsiders a future she once thought was entirely predetermined.

‘Scheme Birds’ takes place in a similarly bleak universe of post-Margaret Thatcher urban hopelessness to those that Ken Loach has spent his career exploring, as well as Andrea Arnold with ‘Fish Tank’ and ‘Red Road’, which was set at the Red Road flats in Balornock of Glasgow, Scotland ( the tallest residential buildings in Europe at the time they were built). Expectations are low, ambition is discouraged, and people don’t have much motivation to get out of their rut of disenfranchisement.

They scream insults (if you’re offended by the word “cunt”, look elsewhere) and roughhouse in ways that could tip from playfulness into aggression in a heartbeat, with no perceptible acknowledgement of the cameraman.

Fact: by the 1930s, most of Scotland's steel production was in Motherwell and, by the middle of the 1970s, the town’s steel industry employed more than 13,000 people. But the 1980s brought a catastrophic collapse of the industry in Motherwell and the high unemployment and economic decline, as a result, is still horrifically visible in ‘Scheme Birds’. Gemma recounts how the skies turned to grey with dust when the factories were demolished.

Birds are a key metaphor. The documentary shows the pains Gemma’s grandfather takes care to bond with his homing pigeons before exhibiting his birds to judges. These birds fly around the world, some returning, others never to be seen again. Gemma has an independent spirit and the words “Let the birds fly free” tattooed on her shoulder, but she loves her town and never wants to leave. However, she is forced to consider other options as her life changes drastically.

‘Scheme Birds’ occasionally stumbles with its cinematography. Slow-motion shots - Joseph releasing his pigeons, the teens running wild with road flares, and young love on the rides at the local showgrounds - verge on unsubtle music video territory. However, these are compensated by the candidness with which life on the estate is captured and some powerful shots elsewhere - a mother admiring a sunset through the window of her house, her young son’s slumped head (crushed by a brutal assault) out of focus in the foreground, will haunt you.

As a documentary subject, Gemma proves to be a source of warmth and comfort to those most affected by the deplorable societal conditions surrounding her, but directors Fiske and Hallin never shy away from the danger and volatility inherent in her existence. It’s difficult for the horror at the conditions not to curdle into active disdain of the town’s residents themselves, and their apparent apathy towards change or "self-improvement".

Fortunately, aside from being a deeply impressive debut, this documentary exudes compassion for its subjects and finds a few glimmers of hopefulness among the factory dust of Motherwell. As the credits rolled, I wondered whether Gemma was doing okay. It’s hard not to become attached as you watch these “scheme birds” leave the nest and slowly find their instinct for freedom and survival on their own terms.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: TBA
RUN TIME: 1h 30m
WRITER/DIRECTORS: Ellen Fiske
Ellinor Hallin
PRODUCERS: Mario Adamson
Ruth Reid
SCORE: Charlie Jefferson
TOP-RATED REVIEWS
Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
Like A Boss - The beauty business is about to get ugly
TRENDINGWIN LIKE A BOSSThe beauty business is about to get ugly
Gemini Man - Seeing double with Will Smith's action thriller
TRENDINGWIN GEMINI MANSeeing double with Will Smith's action thriller
The Keep - Michael Mann's cult gothic thriller hits DVD for the first time ever!
TRENDINGWIN THE KEEPMichael Mann's cult gothic thriller hits DVD for the first time ever!
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood - Mr Rogers: healing the world one lost soul at a time
TRENDINGA BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOODMr Rogers: healing the world one lost soul at a time
A Guide to Second Date Sex - A quintessentially awkward British romantic comedy
TRENDINGA GUIDE TO SECOND DATE SEXA quintessentially awkward British romantic comedy
God of the Piano - A tale that tickles the ivories
TRENDINGGOD OF THE PIANOA tale that tickles the ivories
Underwater - A solid subaquatic monster mash
TRENDINGUNDERWATERA solid subaquatic monster mash
Bad Boys For Life - Whatcha gonna do when there's nothing new
TRENDINGBAD BOYS FOR LIFEWhatcha gonna do when there's nothing new
Gone with the Wind - Wrestling with an uncomfortable past on its 80th anniversary
TRENDINGGONE WITH THE WINDWrestling with an uncomfortable past on its 80th anniversary
25 km/h - A supremely easygoing German comedy
TRENDING25 KM/HA supremely easygoing German comedy
Bombshell - An important yet uninspired look at Fox News’ sex scandal
TRENDINGBOMBSHELLAn important yet uninspired look at Fox News’ sex scandal
NT Live: Fleabag - The birth of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's masterwork
TRENDINGNT LIVE: FLEABAGThe birth of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's masterwork
True History of the Kelly Gang - A magnificent deconstruction of the great Australian antihero
TRENDINGTRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANGA magnificent deconstruction of the great Australian antihero
Color Out of Space - A messy fusion of sci-fi, horror and comedy
TRENDINGCOLOR OUT OF SPACEA messy fusion of sci-fi, horror and comedy
Meeting Gorbachev - Chatting with a man who changed the world
TRENDINGMEETING GORBACHEVChatting with a man who changed the world
Inseparable Bros - A heartwarming tale about disability and the power of friendship
TRENDINGINSEPARABLE BROSA heartwarming tale about disability and the power of friendship
Les Misérables - A remarkably thrilling act of cinematic protest
TRENDINGLES MISÉRABLESA remarkably thrilling act of cinematic protest
Little Women - A 21st century remake - but does it cause more harm than good?
TRENDINGLITTLE WOMENA 21st century remake - but does it cause more harm than good?
The Professor and the Madman - Mel Gibson's dictionary origin story a dry read
TRENDINGTHE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMANMel Gibson's dictionary origin story a dry read
Promised - Flashback to Australian-Italians in the 1970s is a bland affair
TRENDINGPROMISEDFlashback to Australian-Italians in the 1970s is a bland affair
© 2011 - 2020 midnightproductions
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us