BFI #LFF 2015: ELEPHANT DAYS Review

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ELEPHANT DAYS is a spirited exploration of the streets and people that populate Elephant and Castle

Making its world premiere at the 59th BFI London Film Festival on October 12 is a feature length film commissioned by acclaimed Mercury nominated British band The Maccabees.

ELEPHANT DAYS is a documentary film about Elephant and Castle, the underappreciated area of London which houses The Maccabees studio and inspired their fourth album, the number 1 selling Marks To Prove It.

Directed by James Caddick and produced by James Cronin, ELEPHANT DAYS weaves together seven day-to-day stories from the forgotten district of zone 1 London, celebrating the diversity of the community to present a compelling portrait of the Elephant and Castle area.

The documentary focuses on seven characters from the local area; Richard and Lyla Reynolds create gardens in surprises spaces; local musician Natty is having a suit tailored by philosophical tailor George; the Peckham Pride basketball team are striving for success; local minister BB heals at Crossways concrete church and Arments Pie and Mash Shop is celebrating 100-years as an enduring local institution.

Director James Caddick spent two years filming the residents and The Maccabees for the film, following their daily routines as they reflect on life in the area. The film also charts the band’s creative process, offering an honest look at the long and frustrating process of making their fourth studio album and the arduous process of writing and re-writing new material.

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ELEPHANT DAYS is certainly an interesting project and you have to praise The Maccabees for commissioning such a film. The band clearly love the area and want to highlight its community spirit. But while their intentions are honourable, the 78 minute documentary feels a little lost on the big screen.

The main issue with ELEPHANT DAYS is that is it trying to do too many things. Caddick attempts to get underneath the skin of the local characters but we spend so little time with them that the personal element is lost. One example of this is the Peckham Pride basketball team. We see shots of the team training, we hear interview snippets from their coach, we watch them compete for glory in a national tournament but we actually know very little about them. Who are they? Where have they come from? Why is basketball so important to them? There’s clearly more of a story here but we don’t get to see it. Had the filmmakers narrowed down the amount of subjects and spent a little more time with them, perhaps there would be more of an emotional connection.

That said, there is a lot to like about ELEPHANT DAYS. The film is as much a reflection on the rapid regeneration and threat of gentrification in the area as it is about the characters. It symbolic of what is going on in London at the moment and the director has clearly captured a moment in time that is unlikely to be recognised in a few years. The demolition of the Heygate estate back in 2013 is one example of this. With new developments appearing at an alarming rate, Elephant and Castle is clearly changing and the film captures a real sense of community, as well as locals’ apprehension about the borough’s future.

If you’re a fan of The Maccabees or have a connection with Elephant and Castle, ELEPHANT DAYS is sure to interest you. If not, it may be worth waiting to watch this one on TV or VOD as despite its best intentions, it feels a little lost on the big screen.

(2.5 / 5)

ELEPHANT DAYS makes its world premiere at the 59th BFI London Film Festival on 12 October 2015.

About Donna

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1