Who Cares: Broomfield First Documentary

Nick Broomfield’s first film “Who Cares” (1971) represents an image of the kind of life he might have had, “If I hadn’t bucked up my ideas.” Made while at Essex, it chronicles the misery inflicted on working-class communities in Liverpool’s Abercrombie district, when they were forced to move from their houses to new high-rise developments. The docu was later used as evidence to the Royal Commission of Slum Clearance and Re-Housing.

The film conveys nostalgia for communities founded on neighborliness, a reaction to the conservative and materialistic middle-class environment in which he grew up, a journey into “an interesting world that I was shut out of.” But the film also evolved from his
experience of living in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay area.

Borrowing a camera from the university rugby club, Broomfield immersed himself in the community over the course of three months of shooting. He paid greater attention to composition on “Who Cares” than on any subsequent films, in trying to capture such rituals as tea-taking and weekly gossip sessions. “I had a strong feeling making this film that modernity has destroyed so much of people’s sense of belonging,” he said. “Our society has become incredibly mobile, fractured and individualistic; the nuclear family has taken over from communities where the extended family used to be the thing.”

Displacement became one of Broomfield’s recurrent themes, as was interest in the interactions of races and cultures. This 18-minute film, shot without synchronized sound, made the editing process more difficult, but liberated the image; it took over a year to cut. He was indebted to novelist Bernice Rubens for creating a sense of rhythm and putting order in the complex narrative, using the voiceover recollections of an elderly resident as the structuring device.

Broomfield developed his eye for ‘characters’, focusing on the likes of ‘Johnny Fatso’, who claimed to be an associate of Eva Peron.
When Broomfield invited the author of the voiceover to a screening in one of Liverpool’s new tenement blocks, she was so fearful of her
surroundings that she refused to step outside.

“Behind the Rent Strike,” which he made a few years later, arose from what he described as “my dismay at how unhappy the community had become.”

About Broomfield

Nicholas (Nick) Broomfield was born on January 30, 1948 in London. Broomfield’s father Maurice took industrial-themed photographs of him. Expelled from school, Nick was dragged around the factories in which his father worked. He enrolled at Cardiff University to study law, but soon became disillusioned with the rigid hierarchy of the legal profession. Friends at Essex, including future documentarian Kim Longinotto, encouraged him to join them, and to swap law for political science. His studies exerted influence on his filmmaking, marked by strong concerns with justice and living and working conditions of the underclass.