18th April 2023

The Cost of Living is a fascinating and very timely short archive film produced and curated by the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives, partnering with York St John University created from more than half a century of archive footage. The film reflects on the pandemic cycles of boom and bust whilst expressing the fury and anger of generations whose essential needs for safe housing, secure work and full bellies go unfulfilled. We were thrilled when Graham Relton, Archive Manager at the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives agreed to talk to us about the film and the reaction it has received.  

Where did the idea come from for the 'Cost of Living' film?

The archive were approached by Martin Hall, Lauren Stephenson and Steve Rawle from the ‘Cinema and Social Justice Project’ at York St John University (which is also where the York vaults and offices are based) who asked us if we could make a film in response to social justice issues captured on film in the collections.  What started out as a brief to create a 7-minute film using archive footage that spoke to housing, homelessness, poverty and activism, quickly evolved into a production that echoed the current cost of living crisis as images of rising energy cost, food banks, poor housing and government tips for saving money appeared in the film archive collections and simultaneously in the daily news cycle.

 Is this the first time you have produced a film with your archive footage?

Back in 2018 we produced a short film called ‘Born a Rebel’ with an organisation called Cinema for All. The film was made to mark the centenary of the ‘representation of the people’s act 1918’ where some women got the right to vote, this was the start of our in-house production journey. We followed this up with the award winning ‘Lost Connections’ film (2021) which brought together footage from all the national and regional film archives in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These films were the springboard for the ‘Cost of Living’ film.

 What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of this project?

Personally, I’d say one of the most rewarding aspects of the project for me has been working with the editor Andy Burns, he really is a master of his craft. He curated over 50 archive films into a cohesive and powerful film that really resonates with audiences, young and old. The library of films became the ‘palette’ from which Andy could create his moving image portrait that speaks to our contemporary issues. It was fascinating to witness the progress of the editing as Andy weaved together the visuals and audios, revealing parallels between news items recorded over 40 years ago and our current news cycles. The power of archive film in a project like this, is its ability to speak across the generations and remind us to be vigilant against repeating failures of the past.

What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of this project?

One of the big challenges was the extensive trawl of the collections to generate the source content from the which the editor could work. With support from my colleagues David Parsons and Montserrat Rovira Prieto based at our North East office at Teesside University I was able to identify over 200 source films, mainly from the Archive’s Yorkshire TV and Tyne Tees television news and programming collections. Many of these films were still on their original 16mm format and needed digitising, sometimes only fragments of films, stock shots or audio without picture, it was a mammoth task to recognise what could work. I loved this part of the process, watching and listening to the raw archive content, selecting items that I hoped might work for the editor, thankfully, the hard work paid off!

How large is the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives and how do you manage all the footage content?

As a registered charity, we have a small team who work tirelessly to collect, preserve, and make these extraordinary collections accessible for everyone. With over 70,000 items of original film, video tape, and born-digital material, the task of preserving, cataloguing, and digitising these collections is immense – but so are the rewards. People are fascinated to see their own communities, the lives of their grandparents and great-grandparents, the fashions, transport, the momentous events of the decades, through to the fascinating insight into the everyday lives of people throughout the past century.

Dating from our earliest discovery of film recording Queen Victoria visiting Sheffield in 1897, our collections include work from early pioneering filmmakers and production companies through to industrial and advertising collections, television news and regional programmes from both the BBC and ITV/Yorkshire/Tyne Tees, to the work of amateur filmmakers, cine clubs, and home movie makers.

We use Imagen to manage our digitised content held, the ease of use is a massive time saver but as most of the Cost of Living edit used regional TV content which wasn’t previously digitised or catalogued, sadly this project was pretty labour intensive.

The film has received some fantastic and well deserved acclaim and recognition. Did you ever anticipate the reaction you have received?

It was always hard to tell how the film might land with audiences, but I was quietly confident that we produced something that could shine a light on the cracks that we see in our world and would connect. Initially intended as a resource for students, the film's popularity has snowballed and we’re delighted that it is now reaching so many more people. We’ve had great reactions at film festivals, in schools and colleges, from the media and importantly online where the film is available for free to watch. So many people have said it’s brought a tear to their eye, or that they are angry that this cycle of boom and bust seem to repeat themselves. In many ways I wish the film didn’t need to be made and didn’t resonate so loudly with what so many of us are experiencing in the UK at the moment.

 What's the next project for the Yorkshire Film Archive? Another film in the making maybe?

 I always say that we have a vault full of films, but what it really is, is a vault full of stories. We aim to help reveal those stories, primarily by supporting artists, filmmakers, researchers, and producers but we also work hard to reach audiences on a community level, whether this be locality based film shows, co-curated productions like ‘Echoes of the North’ or projects like ‘Nature Matters’ supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that uses our moving image collections to explore one of the most important issues of our time: the impact of climate and environmental change. As part of this latter project and in collaboration with York St John University I can reveal we are working on our next production that shines a spotlight on our changing relationship with the environment, to question our personal relationships with nature, the places we live in, visit and value, industrial and urban re-development, changing energy sources, and threats to our wildlife, flora, and fauna. Watch this space.

To watch the groundbreaking Cost of Living film, click here