If you’ve spent more than a few minutes in a major British city in the past decade, it is clear that homelessness and rough sleeping has dramatically risen since the Conservative/Liberal Democratic government introduced the era of austerity. Budget cuts hitting some of the most vital services, along with punitive changes to the benefit system have left many people barely able to get by.
In Marc Zammit’s labour of love Homeless Ashes, a film that took several years to crowdfund and make, which the director also stars in, homelessness and the communities that exist with in this world on the edge of society is examined through the eyes and experiences of Frankie (Zammit).
After a traumatic family event forces Frankie to leave home at an unbearably young age, he manages to scrape an existence on the streets, encountering both the good and bad sides of humanity. Ten years have passed, and he has built a community around himself, when he meets Nicole (Jamey May), a girl who briefly knew him all those years ago who is struggling with her own issues. Even though they come from very different worlds, the bond between them brings about new changes of its own.
Zammit’s performance as Frankie, and the relationships he has developed in times of hardship are some of the strongest aspects of the film — he has two father figures with which it could be argued the film centres it’s narrative around. There is fellow homeless man Chico (Lew Temple), with whom he shares a passion for re-purposing materials that have been abandoned — and Gavin (Jason Flemyng), a fairground worker that takes Frankie under his wing at a young age, a bond that has not faded throughout the years. The easy chemistry between Gavin and Frankie, the way in which they clearly care for each other without ever really being able to say it out loud, is impressive.
On the other hand, the dime on which the narrative begins to turn, the reappearance of Nicole in Frankie’s life, is sadly not as strong. That has nothing to do with the performance of May, who is given a difficult job of shaping a somewhat unsympathetic character into someone the audience does begin to feel sympathy for. It is more a narrative building issue: Frankie and Nicole only met twice while they were young — both brief encounters that lack any true depth — meaning that their sudden bond ten years later is hard to truly comprehend.
Homelessness is a complex issue, with many different establishing factors, and many more potential outcomes. Zammit does try to present this as much as possible — with characters finding themselves in the situation through immigration, substance issues, family tragedy and more, introducing a variety of characters all with different backgrounds. This can however, make the film’s central point difficult to follow, as most characters only briefly appear for one scene and then are never mentioned again.
While narratively Homeless Ashes does have its weak points, the visual style of the film is truly stunning. Director of Photography Richard Oakes captures the grit and hardship of the streets, while still maintaining a beautiful image on screen. Characters creep through abandoned concrete structure covered in colour graffiti, or joyful orange lights of a fairground contrasted sharply with the dull, grey sky.
Marc Zammit’s debut film is not one to be ignored — while it has its issues it’s hard not to be impressed by a film that truly sticks to the story it wants to tell, and has gone through so many different avenues to reach a national release.
Homeless Ashes premiered at Raindance Film Festival in 2019
by Rose Dymock
Rose is a budding film critic, who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She’s currently living back home in the Black Country in the West Midlands, juggling working full time and trying to break into criticism. She loves thrillers, great female characters, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema. She’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial and she wants a Lord of the Rings tattoo. Find her on twitter @rosedymock or on her website https://rosefd.wordpress.com/