Here is the news: the centuries old tradition of selling newspapers on street corners is very nearly over. But filmmaker Tal Amiran has made a poetic short film eulogy to this dying breed which you can watch here.
Amiran's documentary Seven Days A Week scooped the Londonist Award for Best London Short Film at the start of 2016 during the London Short Film Festival. It's gone on to win awards all over the world. We caught up with Hackney-based Amiran to talk more about the project and his career as a filmmaker, charting the lives of London’s less celebrated heroes.
What drew you to tell the story of Paul Saxton and his newspaper booth?
I used to walk past Paul's stall on the way to work and was struck by the way it looked like a time capsule. Then we got talking and I heard his amazing story and I knew it would be an interesting film. He was keen and forthcoming and we are still friends now.
How far does the history of the booth stretch back?
Before Paul, it was run by his father and then his grandfather before him, right back to the early 1900s. This particular hut was built 20 years ago by a relative of Paul's who was a carpenter — back when his grandad sold papers, it was a mobile stall on wheels.
What's the future for Paul and his stall?
When a Waitrose opened opposite and offered free papers with coffee, it was a big dent to Paul's business. There was local uproar and he says he's been moved by the way regulars have stayed loyal to him. Paul says he knows that when he goes, the stall will go too — the council won't issue a license again and the space will disappear. Neither his daughter nor his wife will take over and he accepts this. But he will continue as long as he can.
How easy was it to make the film?
It took six months in total; I started in December 2014 and finished around May-June 2015. I filmed Paul over the course of a few months then took a few months to edit. I was going to visit him each week and also had a few early mornings arriving before he did at 4am, so I could document him arriving and setting up to serve his first customers — the cab drivers who stop by at about 4:45am.
What does Paul think of the film?
He goes to bed at 8pm so he hasn't been to many of the screenings. But he came to one of the first ones at Crouch End. His regulars gave him a round of applause. I think it was very emotional for this guy who is normally in the shadows to be celebrated that way.
How did you get into film?
I was a drummer with bands here in London (including stints with Noah and the Whale and Two Door Cinema Club as well as the punk rock band Vatican DC); and I was touring while doing my BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College. While on the road, I started to make documentary video art pieces linked to music and performance: one was filmed in London's Brixton Academy during and after a Prodigy concert, showing the crowd jumping up and down in ecstasy then a floor full of empty plastic beer cups. Being a drummer relates to my job as an editor when it comes to pace and rhythm, which are vital in video editing.
How would you describe your approach and aesthetic?
I'm drawn to real things and not staging them. Usually the film dictates where it wants to go and I won't have a preconceived notion of what I think. That way I can leave things open for interpretation because I want viewers to become part of the story. I'm drawn to outcasts or people in the shadows, who are overlooked but work very hard. I want to celebrate that.
I’ve made a documentary about Romanians in London who sculpt dogs from sand to make money. You may have seen them in some of the high streets around the city.
Here’s the trailer:
On top of the numerous awards it has won, Seven Days a Week has also been acquired by the BFI National Archive.