A country united in gloom after being divided by Brexit

A scene from Timothy Kelly's documentary Brexitannia, being screened as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest.
A scene from Timothy Kelly's documentary Brexitannia, being screened as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest.
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Filmmaker Timothy Kelly’s new documentary examines Brexit and the impact it has had on the country. Chris Bond talked to him ahead of his visit to Sheffield Doc/Fest.

It may seem strange for an Australian to want to make a film about Brexit, but having lived in the UK for the past five years Timothy Kelly found last year’s hugely divisive EU referendum vote compelling.

“I live in London and when the result came in it was a huge shock for people there,” he says.

“It’s one of the biggest political events of recent times in this country and one that historians will be talking about for years to come and as a filmmaker I was curious about what it said about the state of the country.

“To do that I had to go outside the London bubble and speak to people from different parts of the country, otherwise it would have just been something about those inside the M25 perimeter.”

Kelly contacted film producers who put him in contact with local people from both sides of the debate. He travelled the length and breadth of the country for six months during which time he interviewed more than 100 people for his film.

The subsequent documentary, Brexitannia, is by turns angry, absurd and amusing is being screened as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest tonight when Kelly also joins four other filmmakers and producers to discuss artistic responses to Brexit and what it means for people.

He says rather than being responsible for dividing the country, last year’s referendum merely amplified deep-rooted differences that already existed.

“The nation has been alienated from each other for a long time. You get a real sense of a lack of hope among a lot of people in terms of the future, which is actually quite alarming,” he says.

“You have people living in different social and cultural stratospheres that don’t recognise one another.

“And there are those who felt they didn’t have a voice and weren’t being listened to by politicians and suddenly Brexit changed all that because they could have their say.”

He was surprised by how much class remained a big issue in some places.

“People still talk about it and it’s interesting how confused some people are about what class they belong to.

“It’s become extremely hard for working class culture to exist when the traditional industrial core has gone.”

On the face of it Kelly’s observations about the state of the nation offer a bleak portrait of a country that is at odds with itself and united only by a shared feeling of despondency.

“It’s ten years since the financial crisis and a lot of people think there’s no grand plan aimed at making a better future.

“Austerity is still really affecting people and they feel powerless, but something is changing. We’ve seen it in the election that people are fed up with the idea of forever austerity, even some Tories.

“There’s no anticipation that things will get any better and there’s a feeling that we’re going backwards.

“It’s like the country is in a mass depression.”

At the same time Kelly says he encountered a great deal of humour as he travelled around the country making his documentary.

“There are different stories and different voices from all over the UK and although it’s political, there’s a sense of humour there too.

“There are reasons for the problems in society and there’s no doubt that many people don’t feel they have autonomy over what’s happening.

“But despite the fact that the UK is in a time of crisis and Europe and America are in a time of crisis, ordinary people are still intelligent and funny and that comes across in the film.”

Sheffield Doc/Fest runs until June 14. Brexitannia is being screened as part of the festival tonight at 9.15pm. For more details about this and other events go to www.sheffdocfest.com