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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Shed Your Tears and Walk Away


Director Jez Lewis (2009)

It's said there's no such thing as bad publicity, but product placement may be another matter. The leading characters in Shed Your Tears and Walk Away, Cass and Silly and the rest, hang onto their Special Brew for grim death. Literally grim death for some. Too many.

Special Brew is the badge they wear. A motif that stitches together roughly edited scenes, holding them together with as sure a grip as the street drinkers on their cans, swigging in nervous impatient gulps.

Yet if this unsolicited product placement did the brand any good Carlsberg would surely by now have pulled whatever strings are necessary to make sure more people see this remarkable documentary.

Thanks to a mention on Twitter I saw it, among a dozen others, at a special screening in the Christian Aid headquarters at Waterloo. Director Jez Lewis, who worked on Ghosts with the great Nick Broomfield, was there, too. He made Shed Your Tears over a year ago after noticing that the kids he grew up with in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, were dying. They were committing suicide or, as good as, killing themselves with drink and drugs.

His camera sails in from the green hills and falls on Hebden, beautiful and deadly in its hollow. Lewis does not so much film the drinkers sucking away their hours in the park as join them. For a while we're immersed in this community, the faces and voices whirl around us.

And it is a true community. When Cass leaves for rehab the first time it's a terrible wrench. It's only a couple of weeks but everyone knows that if he succeeds he may not be back, that he’s been told he has two years to live if he carries on like this and he has to leave them behind if he’s to save himself.

Silly, his best friend, is off the heroin, but that only means he remembers. Silly joined the Foreign Legion and was a good soldier, which means he killed people, and now the memories are killing him, and when he drinks he cries.

Liam is lucky that he’s got a job with his dad’s firm, but his brother Sam has accidentally died after taking various drugs and drinking a lot of alcohol. It’s Liam who keeps Lewis to his harrowing project, urging him to tell the story, to tell the world what’s happening in Hebden. The authorities are in denial and the truth has to get out. Shortly after the filming ends Liam, too, is dead.

Why? That’s the big enveloping question Shed Your Tears doesn’t explicitly answer. Lewis is too good a film-maker for that. So afterwards I asked him.

Hebden lost its industry back in the 1960s. There aren’t enough jobs. Hippies moved in and brought drugs with them. It comes through in what the people say in the film that they feel the town’s been taken away from them. That they have no place in it, no purpose. They drink and drug because they’re bored, a couple of them say. Which hardly sounds like a good reason but it depends what you mean by bored. Somebody ought to write a book on bored.

Lewis has another word for it. “Dispossession,” he says. “It’s dispossession.”

November 18, 2010

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