A “space for people to be angry and sad”: Gold and Ashes shines a light on the human stories at the heart of Grenfell
The 27-minute-long documentary reflects on the tragedy, with the community’s stories at the centre of the moving short.
- Jyni Ong
- 17 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
At first glance, Gold and Ashes seems like another documentary about the Grenfell tragedy. But what sets it apart from the hoards of other media exploring the terrible incident in 2017, is that it focuses on the stories at the heart of the tragedy and those most affected. The film was directed by Zachary Crawley, Ben Saunders and Feruza Afewerki. Zachary comments on how “everything who has heard of what happened in North Kensington four years ago has a perception and a picture of who it happened to and why.” With this in mind, the documentary was created not to shed light on a different perspective of the event nor provide a breakdown of what happened. Instead, Zachary and Candour, his production company, sought to provide a community with a space for them to “speak, grieve, be angry, be sad and reflect.”
When asked about his aims with Gold and Ashes and what he hopes it brings to the conversation, the director tells us: “It’s a great question and one that we’ve wrestled with – who are we to tell this story?” He then explained how the film is co-directed by Feruza who wanted the film to run alongside her wider project of the same title which similarly focuses the lens on the people of the community, and how they’ve been impacted. When the devastating blaze ripped through the building, Feruza sadly lost her sister, partner and their daughter in the fire. Zachary continues: “Feruza felt compelled to give the individuals of the Grenfell community a platform.”
While the fire has raised much-needed investigations into government regulations and inquiries, the documentary wanted to offer a place where the individuals affected by the tragedy could platform their experiences. It features multiple interviews from former residents led by Feruza. “They were more like conversations,” remembers Zachary, going on to point out, “there is no way we could have done it without her. She understood what to say and what not to say. She gave space for people to be angry or sad, she assured people, ‘don’t worry we won’t put that in the film if you don’t want to’ and ultimately allowed people to process their feelings.”
In turn, Feruza created a safe space for the interviewees where each person felt comfortable to talk about the most painful thing that had ever happened to them, and to talk about it free from judgement. One of the participants even said after their interview: “I needed this. It’s the first time I’ve spoken about what happened and I can see that I needed this and need to talk about it more because I’ve been stuck.” The film details the raw emotion of a community that endured something unimaginable, as for Zachary and the rest of the production crew, the challenge was not to get in the way.
“Our biggest fear was getting it wrong,” he says. “When you’re pursuing honesty, editing is a hard concept to grapple with.” Going through hours of unused material, the team were tasked with editing down a mammoth amount of material elements in order to tell the story. “There were enough stories in that tower to last a lifetime,” adds Zachary. The director reflects on this process and the ethics of editing in general, pointing out that as soon as the record button is pressed, a kind of editing is involved as you’re choosing what to capture and what not to capture. “The challenge was trying to honestly represent each person’s perspective,” he adds, “to not get in the way and make it about us.”
For the team, a reassuring moment came when they heard interviewees – including Karim, Billal and Ed – say: “It felt like it was our film, our words.” For Zachary, hearing those words gave him “the biggest sense of pride.” Listening to the community throughout the project, the filmmakers chose not to show footage from the night in question, recognising that it is deeply triggering to many members of the community. Instead, the film tells the story without showing an integral part of the visual narrative, showing the honest human stories behind Grenfell.
In Gold and Ashes, one of the interviewees, Ed, says “the saddest thing about Grenfell is that we will never be able to tell the world what a wonderful community Grenfell was.” So the film and book hope to allow viewers to see the people behind the number. Zachary finally goes on to say: “72 people died in the fire. They all had dreams that won’t be realised. Unfinished to-do lists. Books half-read. Family living without them. It is so so tragic that we leave out the details for the sake of word counts.”
Feruza Afewerki, Zoe: Gold and Ashes (Copyright © Feruza Afewerki, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.