Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
SEARCH RESULTS FOR
With this year's Jewish International Festival underway, SWITCH has checked out the program - click here to read our 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.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw - Dwayne Johnson & Jason Statham's action-packed spinoff
TRENDINGWIN FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAWDwayne Johnson & Jason Statham's action-packed spinoff
Sliders: The Complete Collection - The entire classic sci-fi series in one big box set
TRENDINGWIN SLIDERS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTIONThe entire classic sci-fi series in one big box set
Judy & Punch - A fierce, darkly comic and epic revenge story
TRENDINGWIN JUDY & PUNCHA fierce, darkly comic and epic revenge story
Farming - Caught between two worlds in an mournfully true story
TRENDINGWIN FARMINGCaught between two worlds in an mournfully true story
Charlie's Angels - A new generation of Angels, another barrel of fun
TRENDINGCHARLIE'S ANGELSA new generation of Angels, another barrel of fun
And Then We Danced - A passionate and remarkable classic in the making
TRENDINGAND THEN WE DANCEDA passionate and remarkable classic in the making
Emu Runner - Another great win for Indigenous storytelling
TRENDINGEMU RUNNERAnother great win for Indigenous storytelling
Greener Grass - A deeply odd and very funny suburban nightmare
TRENDINGGREENER GRASSA deeply odd and very funny suburban nightmare
The Irishman - Kissing Scorsese’s ring (again)
TRENDINGTHE IRISHMANKissing Scorsese’s ring (again)
Lion - A raw and powerful journey of identity
TRENDINGLIONA raw and powerful journey of identity
Jewish International Film Festival 2019 - The reviews
TRENDINGJEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019The reviews
God of the Piano - A tale that tickles the ivories
TRENDINGGOD OF THE PIANOA tale that tickles the ivories
Double Lover - Softcore pornography for cinephiles
TRENDINGDOUBLE LOVERSoftcore pornography for cinephiles
Ford v Ferrari - A racing biopic that's right on track
TRENDINGFORD v FERRARIA racing biopic that's right on track
Never Look Away - An artistic and spiritual epic
TRENDINGNEVER LOOK AWAYAn artistic and spiritual epic
Five Feet Apart - Breathing borrowed air and clichés
TRENDINGFIVE FEET APARTBreathing borrowed air and clichés
Gallipoli - A powerful and important film remembered
TRENDINGGALLIPOLIA powerful and important film remembered
Doctor Sleep - Here’s 'The Shining' Stephen King has been waiting for
TRENDINGDOCTOR SLEEPHere’s 'The Shining' Stephen King has been waiting for
NT Live: Fleabag - The birth of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's masterwork
TRENDINGNT LIVE: FLEABAGThe birth of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's masterwork
Charlie's Angels - A new generation of Angels, another barrel of fun
TRENDINGCHARLIE'S ANGELSA new generation of Angels, another barrel of fun
© 2011 - 2019 midnightproductions
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us