This film is part of Free

Hackney Marshes

Tower block life is explored and the documentary form re-imagined by artist John Smith.

Animation & Artists Moving Image 1978 32 mins Silent


Artist John Smith tells stories about tower block life, editing in bold, unconventional fashion, cutting into the material and highlighting the components and conventions of the film form - yet an intimate portrait of the block's inhabitants still emerges.

Hackney Marshes was commissioned by Thames Television and broadcast on ITV in 1978. It formed the last part in a series of documentaries that profiled filmmakers who had never directed for TV before. Each of the two series featured a work by a director from an experimental filmmaking background; Hackney Marshes in the first, Act of God by Peter Greenaway in the second. The director of the former was at this point a prominent member of the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative, an organisation that provided facilities to shoot, print, distribute and exhibit on 16mm film. Works made there could be highly formal and John Smith’s Hackney Marshes was made in this tradition - and yet it still functions as an informative, engaging documentary. "Its success demonstrates the necessity for many TV film-makers to re-think their safe approaches and accepted techniques" said John Wyver in Time Out magazine. John Smith won the 2013 Jarman Award and his films regularly screen in cinemas and galleries around the world.