Scheme Birds
Regissør: Ellen Fiske,Ellinor Hallin
(Storbritannia, Sverige)

POVERTY / A generation of young Scots show moments of tenderness and care amidst everyday frustrations, trials, and episodes of violence.


A gloomy everyday realism has characterized and almost defined British film. The films depict the working class poverty and difficult conditions and are supported by the political left's concern for society's increasing differences. The films come dangerously close to social pornography, especially when the issues are embraced by directors with a privileged background who seem more compelled to transfer class guilt than the incentive to create something based on authentic experiences.

Scheme Birds is not one of these films, although it may seem like it at first.

The action takes place in the Scottish town of Motherwell south of Glasgow, formerly known as the capital of the steel industry, which has now stagnated in an economic recession after the said industry was hard pressed under Margaret Thatcher's regime. The steel mills were closed down in turn, and today only one steel mill remains, which reopened in 2016.

Motherwell is portrayed as a bleak city, devastated by drugs and crime, where the male section of the population is in and out of prison.

"If you stay here, you either get locked up or end up in the thick," says young Gemma. We follow her through several years as she tries to navigate the beginnings of adulthood – where everything speaks to her success and where perseverance and determination are required.

Scheme Birds – Trailer from Syndicated on Vimeo.


social Realism

The directors Fiske and Hallin have made a documentary, but the intimacy and access to the characters' privacy means that it could just as well have been a social-realistic fiction film. The director duo comes from Sweden, but they allow the protagonists room to describe and define the relationship to the environment in which they live, to impose premise, without milking the tragedies for their shocking content.

The story of Gemma and her loved ones misses neither tragedy nor accidents, but the way this is told stands out. Instead of suffering as sensationalism, we find – as in many of the films about Britain's poor – a low-spoken, heartfelt goodness and hope that is embedded in a world where daily trials are normal.

Gemma lives with her grandfather. It was he who got the job of raising her. The addicted mother was never present, and Gemma seems pleased to have been linked to him through his male-dominated interests such as boxing and pigeon shows. There is a thrill in the domestication and freedom of these birds, with some returning, while others are fleeing to never return home – a symbol repeated in the film. Grandpa needs the pigeons to stay away from crime, he says.

When Gemma becomes pregnant, her grandfather breaks off contact with her. He can't accept her boyfriend Pat, who is admittedly out of trouble but has already been in jail.

The little family experiences a short, happy period as the child comes to the world: Gemma and Pat become friends with the couple Amy and JP, who they spend the evenings with while laughing, chain smoking and drinking, allowing them to escape some of the stress that new-born parents are experiencing, and without giving up their teens.

But the fragile harmony is short-lived, like so much else in Motherwell. The friend and prisoner Scott yell at the noise that causes a tragic outcome. His vicious act has catastrophic consequences. A disillusioned Gemma, on the other hand, takes parental responsibility seriously, and the relationship between her and Pat dissolves because of all the attachment.


The film uses archival footage showing Motherwell when the town was called "Steelopolis", many years before Gemma was born. Before being demolished in the 90s, the steel mills gave work to many, including her family, and the collapse of the industrial city resulted in high unemployment. Although social distress and lack of opportunities permeate every film sequence, this is not a film about poverty and political institutional failure, it is more about the mother role and the importance of close relationships.

Instead of suffering as sensationalism, we find – as in many of the films about Britain's poor – a low-key, heartfelt goodness and hope
which is woven into a world where daily trials are normal.

The film is never moralizing or sentimental, and its restraint highlights the city's women: JP's mother and the generation after her. Like her, Gemma and Amy must break the code of how to handle the task as a good caregiver in the midst of difficulties, a tremendous task that would weaken even the resilience of a lioness.

"Let the Free Birds Fly" says one of Gemma's many tattoos. The film is uncompromising in its portrayal of the brutal lack of opportunities in life, but does not leave us with an illusion of meritocracy. Nor does it create room for condescending pity, for the women defy the painful events they experience and carry them, invisible, and use them as tools for change and development. The film uses several narrative voices. Essentially, it is Gemma who tells, a subtle reminder that way telling the story – and how you can understand your own story – is as important to the future as the raw, actual events.

The film was shown at Dokufest in Kosovo recently.

Translated by Iril Kolle

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