Review: Film Hell's Pavement (Not on general release), Lexi Cinema, London
A powerful film about a girl's traumatic journey through care exposes the system's failings
A powerful film about a girl's traumatic journey through care exposes the system's failings, writes Camilla Pemberton
Hell's Pavement is Andy Kemp's impressive directorial debut about a young girl growing up in foster care.
Authentic, provocative and based entirely on true events, this docu-drama style film stays with you as uncomfortably as it is intended to. The team behind Hell's Pavement - many of whom have personal and professional experience of foster care - want to ignite national debate about the UK care system.
Aimee Collins (Keeki Bennetts) is no different to the other 59,999 children in care in England: vulnerable, unpredictable and in need of love and support.
But she is particularly vulnerable. Rejected by her mother, who was under the influence of drugs, alcohol and an abusive boyfriend, the 11-year-old is self-harming by the time she enters foster care.
Her foster parents Maeve (Father Ted's Pauline McLynn) and Peter (Connor Byrne) have the right combination of skill and patience to transform Aimee's life, if only the system would allow it. Local authority budgets mean Aimee is taken away from them, without warning, at a point when she is just beginning to settle into her new life and grow in confidence.
What follows - also the opening scene of the film - is shocking, upsetting and has dire consequences, but in a child's eye view of the world was a desperate cry for help.
The film's title, says producer and co-writer Keith Gorman, comes from the old adage, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". And Hell's Pavement stays true to this message. Despite the good intentions of the professionals responsible for Aimee's well-being, she grows up bearing the scars of parental and statutory failure.
Social care professionals will probably find their own experiences will shape their opinions of Hell's Pavement, but the film-makers are mindful not to demonise or generalise. Their connection with the subject matter means this is not a prurient, mawkish look at the misfortune of others, but a film with a clear purpose.
"We want to shake up the system and get the film seen by those with the power to make changes," says Gorman.
Social workers and foster carers I spoke to after the viewing felt the film was powerful, if bleak, and reflected some of the pressures they face at work. A Q&A session after the film raised key issues: a lack of support from senior managers; a lack of adequate support for foster carers and financial pressures affecting the whole sector.
This article is published in the 5 November 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline A bleak depiction of foster care