Heavy Load: A Film About Happiness
A punk band featuring people with learning disabilities seems an unlikely subject for a documentary, writes Mark Drinkwater.
But Jerry Rothwell’s 91-minute film is a fascinating portrayal of Brighton-based Heavy Load as they try to break into the mainstream music business.
Much of the documentary follows the band’s “Stay up Late” campaign, where they encourage support agencies to be flexible with staff rotas so that people living in supported housing can stay out later than 9pm.
As the film progresses, the band decides to break out from playing at disability events and play a gig at a notoriously rough venue in Seaford, on the Sussex coast.
The band’s effervescence slowly wins over an initially bemused audience. The film culminates with the band members realising their ambition to play at a large mainstream festival alongside established acts such as the Levellers and the Fun Loving Criminals.
Although the band may be chaotic at times, the documentary never is. Rothwell’s editing gives it a dramatic narrative with backgrounds to the characters, conflicts within the band and finally how they overcome these challenges. It’s this structure that makes the film so fascinating.
Making any documentary is fraught with ethical issues. And much more so when filming people with learning disabilities who perhaps do not fully understand the implications of what they are agreeing to. In the hands of a different director, another portrayal of Heavy Load might have felt exploitative or overly sentimental. Thankfully this film avoids these extremes.
Having worked in supported housing in the past, I was absorbed in scenes portraying supported living. But it’s much more than a portrayal of social care – it’s about how we try to make sense of our lives in order to be happy. So it won’t just be your colleagues from work who will appreciate it.
This film is sure to be unlike anything else showing at your local Odeon. Go see for yourself.
Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London.
Heavy Load: A Film About Happiness is on release at cinemas from 3 October.
This review is published in the 2 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading The late show goes on