The Shard at Portobello Film Festival

Portobello Film Festival 2018

Last night over to the Portobello Film Festival for the screening of In the Shadow of the Shard. Ladbroke Grove is unavoidably WEST London, hits straight you away the moment you leave the station. You expect to see Paul Simonon strolling down the street. London Calling bounces out of the pillars of the Hammersmith & City Line viaduct. The vibe is very particular, I feel a million miles away from the EAST. From here forests are to be found in Bavaria rather than Chingford.

I wait 20-minutes for grilled chicken at a joint near the station which seemed to be a hang-out for people on their way home and moped delivery drivers. I scoff the lot down in 6-minutes flat, it was tasty but not worth the wait. Then it’s off to the screening at Westway – my film coming at the end of a 4-hour programme titled, The Revolution Will Be Televised. I catch the final half-hour of Rupert Russell’s Freedom for the Wolf which looks well worth watching all the way through.

Portobello Film Festival 2018

After introducing the film I settled on a sofa and watched till the end – unusual at this stage of a film’s life when I would have seen it around twenty times before, the majority of them forensically checking for errors and corrections. But I enjoyed seeing it in this setting – away from the previous on-site events in Tenants Halls around Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. I wondered what the West London audience were making of it.

After hanging around for a bit chatting to audience members I took a night-time stroll down Ladbroke Grove past Performance terraces and into Portobello Road. Posh young things loitered chattering on street corners, the last diners huddled over tables at the rear of boutique restaurants. On the last stretch into Notting Hill I tried to imagine the grand houses in their fifties-sixties guise as the lodgings for arrivals from the Caribbean and Australian wanderers. It seems so distant, purely a scene in a period drama.

Old Swan Notting Hill

I’m not ready to head underground to re-emerge in a different reality back in Leytonstone so find a seat by the window of the Old Swan at the top of Kensington Church Street. There’s hardly anyone in the pub, although the few people seem intent on broadcasting their conversations to the world. It’s hard to concentrate on my book so I scribble in my notebook instead. Pint sunk I’m ready for the Tube and that transition through worlds across the city.

Grenfell Tower fire protest and march

Two men stood with their backs to the police cordon across Lancaster Road, the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower behind them. They both held large laminated photos – one with three small girls, the other their parents and grandmother. “I am the Uncle to these three girls”, he told me, Mierna Choukair, Fatima Choukair, Zainab Choukair, “here’s my sister Nadia, that’s her husband Bassem, and at the end is my Mum”. He had received no information from the authorities about them, he still doesn’t know if they survived the horrific fire that as of 4pm on Saturday 17th June the police are saying has claimed 58 lives. The crowd that had gathered earlier on Friday evening at Kensinton and Chelsea Town Hall put the death toll much higher. The BBC’s legendary reporter John Sweeney told me that 100 people had died, when I approached him with my camera on the march between the Town Hall and Grenfell Tower, described by some local residents as “the scene of the crime”.

Justice for Grenfell Tower protest
The man’s brother holding the photos of Nadia, Bassem, and Sirria read out the text messages Bassem had sent from his flat while the fire consumed Grenfell Tower. “At 1.15am Bassem sent a message to his workplace saying ‘Morning guys there is a fire in my building on the 4th Floor and I’m living on the 22nd Floor we are not able to leave the building and don’t know what is going to happen. Sorry guys for letting you down.”
“At 2.41 my sister sent a message to me, a voice message saying ‘Hello Nabil there is a fire in our building we are sitting in our flat, ok bye’, and that was it”. He hasn’t heard from them since and the authorities and hospitals aren’t telling them anything.
Grenfell Tower missing persons
The sense among the crowd that had gathered at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall was one being abandoned, not just in the face of this horrific tragedy, but over years. Of being ignored and maligned. But although there was a sense of anguished grief and anger there was an overwhelming message of unity and togetherness. We stand together in our call for answers and justice, was the popular refrain.

Making our way along Kensington Church Street, Holland Park Ave and Ladbroke Grove, cars and buses trapped in traffic brought to a standstill beeped their horns in support, bus drivers reached out to shake the hands of passing protestors calmly walking up the street. One person directed my camera towards the stalled 328 bus bound for ‘Chelsea World’s End’.

Flowers and candles at Notting Hill Church

As the crowds gathered at the end of Lancaster Road with Grenfell Tower looming behind a lady handed me a bottle of water. She returned a couple of minutes later with a Tuna and Cucumber sandwich. A teenage boy worked through the throng handing out cartons of Capri Sun. Looking at the photocopied pictures of the missing persons taped to the walls and doors of Notting Hill Methodist Church I had to choke back the tears. What has happened here is too terrible to comprehend.

 

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On Monday 19th June I joined people gathered for a vigil in Parliament Square, Westminster  to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.