How did it all start? When did you decide to make this film?
I came back to Bucharest after many years to undertake an ethnographic work around street level drug use and services for users across the city, with particular reference to a couple of streets in Ferentari and the underground canals of Gara de Nord. In September 2014, only after a month living in Bucharest, I stumbled across the aftermath of a massive eviction in which 20 families (around 100 individuals) had been thrown out onto the street after having lived for many years — for some up to 20 — in the house they were now only able to see from the pavement. That was the Vulturilor community, and from that moment on I felt compelled and inspired by their resistance and fight and I’ve tried to help as much as I could. The blog that Nicoleta, one of the evicted and activist in the community, and myself put together – www.jurnaldinvulturilor50.org – was the first step of a collaboration that eventually led to the documentary. Many videos presented in the film were actually conceived as activist interventions: the film came about as the natural continuation of a common struggle, through which I’ve learned a lot (thanks to the community and also to the friends in the Common Front for the Right to Housing, FCDL).
Why a film and not a research article?
Research articles are good to talk to academics, not the general public. Plus, they are generally constructed under unequal relationships of knowledge production and diffusion. The film for me is just an excuse – a methodological excuse – to find alternative ways to meaningfully engage both with the people I work with (in this case, the Vulturilor community) and the people I want to reach with my work. I did a similar thing when I wrote a novel around homelessness in my own language, Italian. At the time, I was writing a PhD thesis around homelessness in Turin, but I needed something to connect with my homeless friends in a deeper way, something able to give them and myself a shared sense of what I was (and we were) doing while talking together, sharing food or simply walk through the city. The novel worked in that case. I think that the film works in this other case, because it allows for an alternative visual representation of the fight for housing in Bucharest.
What impact do you expect it to have?
The future of this project is still, for the most part, unknown. I hope for it to become an active testament of the fight for housing in Bucharest – one that will be used by activists, evicted people and researchers to strengthen their resistance to displacement and to fight continuous harassment. In order to work toward this direction, I would like for the film to be seen by three kinds of audiences. Firstly, I am organizing screenings for activists in different European cities. The idea is to travel with friends from FCDL (including Nicoleta) to discuss the film and its story of resistance across the continent, in order to create new solidarities or strengthen existing ones (for instance the ones already in place through the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City). Groups in Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Rome and more are responding and activities will be organized throughout the summer and fall 2017.
Secondly, I want the film to travel in Film Festivals to engage with a community of professionals who may be interested in co-producing similar works in the future. In this regard, I have submitted the film to a number of international Festivals and I hope for it to be screened in a number of venues across the whole 2017. Similarly, I would also like for it to be broadcast on TV, especially in Romania, to stimulate a debate around the racialization of housing and the right to the city that is much needed in the country. Giving the political nature of the film, this may be very hard to achieve.
Lastly, I would like for my fellow colleagues in the academy to watch the documentary and to discuss its activist visual-methodology. Some colleagues have been incredibly supportive (like the one sittings in EPD’s board, or the friend in the Relational-Poverty Network in the US); others have been scornful of the possibilities of being an ethnographer, a scholar and a film-maker. In any case, screenings have been organized in a number of international conferences (AAG 2017, RGS-IBG 2017 and RC21 2017) and I am always open to the possibility of seminars and workshops. The film is, to me, an open tool to be used, debated and mobilized in order to work toward its original inspiration, which came from the people of Vulturilor in Bucharest: to fight against displacement and for the right to housing for everyone, in every city.
Dates and locations of future screening will be publicized on Facebook and on the film’s website. If you are interested in organizing an activist screening and/or a debate, an academic seminar, or if you simply have ideas and projects to share, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m sure now you are familiar with the Romanian housing policy. What improvements do you think it needs to address the needs of the people who seek to benefit from the social housing program?
It’s plain and simple: Romanian authorities need to recognize that privatizing the housing stock in the 90s was a mistake (because of its economic and social consequences), and they must redirect existing resources into the provision of affordable housing. The burden of change does not reside, however, only on local authorities. Citizens need to stand up and start to reclaim their right to the city and to affordable housing, at all levels, co-producing forms of resistance and action that may be able to challenge the dominant paradigm in Romania – one based around dreams of personal success, ‘civilization’, and stigmatization of the poor. The cultural work needed to re-center social housing as a priority for contemporary Romania is as important as the legislative one.
Where can Romanians see the film?
For now, they can watch it at the public screenings that we (the Frontul Comun pentru Drept la Locuire) organize around the country. News about upcoming screenings can be found here: www.ainceputploaia.com. Towards the end of the year, the film will be made available on-line for free.
Michele Lancione is an urban ethnographer and activist working as Senior Research Fellow at the Urban Institute, Sheffield University (UK). His non-academic works include an ethnographic novel around homelessness (Il numero 1, Eris, 2011) and a full-length video documentary around forced evictions in Bucharest, Romania (A început ploaia – It started raining). You can follow him @michelelancione and download his publications at www.michelelancione.eu.