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in Filmmaking
on Jan 18, 2008

Fri, Jan 18th 4:30pm
Tues, Jan 22nd, 7pm

Interview by Brandon Harris

Eva Weber’s doc short City of Cranes takes you on a journey high up in the sky, to look at London’s ever-changing landscape through the eyes and words of crane drivers. It is a glimpse into a world unnoticed by most of us, yet fundamental to our lives.

What initially drew you to the world of cranes?
I started making this film as I was fascinated by the fact that there is almost another world above London; yet most of us never look up to notice cranes or their drivers. Cranes dominate our cityscape; and once you notice them, you can see them literally everywhere; yet the men who operate these giant structures are often overlooked as they almost merge with their machines. Spending most of their time up in the crane, they become invisible to the people on the site and passers-by. They in turn can see everything going on around them, yet their only way to connect with the world below is by watching it from a distance. In many ways, the film builds and expand on themes touched upon in my last film ‘The Intimacy of Strangers’ – the conflict between being intimate yet distant; and how our lives are shaped by our urban environment.

The film has a companion piece, The Solitary Life of Cranes. Could you explain the relationship between the two?
City of Cranes is divided into four chapters, each highlighting a different aspect of what it means to be a crane driver: “The City Above,” “The Last Topman,” “Ballet of Cranes” and “Solitary.” The four chapters work together to give the viewer a fascinating insight into a world unnoticed by most of us, yet fundamental to our lives. The Solitary LIfe of Cranes, on the other hand, is more of a city symphony seen through the eyes of the drivers. Within the loose structure of a day, starting with the drivers climbing up at dawn and ending with them coming down after a nightshift, the film observes the city as it awakens with a bustle of activity, through the action of midday, until it calms down again deep into the night. Throughout, the drivers share their thoughts and reflections on London and life in general.

How did you go about meeting crane drivers and other individuals to detail the impact of the machines, both on their personal lives and the public at large?
When I started researching the film, I went to one of the biggest construction sites in London which happens to be near my home in East London. I asked whether I could talk to some of the crane drivers working on the site, and the drivers there were incredibly friendly and forthcoming. Unfortunately, I was never able to film at this particular site; however, I did interview some of the drivers for the film. I subsequently spent many days traveling round London, visiting other sites and talking to drivers. I quickly found out that the world of cranes is quite a small one: Word of mouth travelled very quickly, and by the time, I approached other sites, the drivers there had already heard about my project. I also met many other people working on construction sites or working with cranes, from banksmen, who direct the drivers from the ground, to the crane erectors, who erect and take cranes down.

Over the course of the project, I learned to navigate around London in the same way as crane drivers do. Rather than looking for street names, I would look for a crane in the skyline which I knew was near the place I wanted to go to. It actually made me look at London in a new way, as I learned to appreciate how close some places are to each other, and how small the City of London itself is.

You work on the borderline of documentary and narrative production. Which do you prefer and why? What are the unique pleasures of each?
For me, filmmaking is about telling stories from surprising angles, whether they are fictional or documentary-based. Whilst I started out making fiction shorts, my last three films have been documentaries. I have found that working across the two areas actually helps me in my filmmaking: Whilst short films have taught me about storytelling, dialogue and casting; I have found documentaries a great training ground to learn about human behaviour. I love observing people closely, so I can bring these insights to working with actors, to help them to create credible characters.

What were your biggest challenges when constructing the film in post-production?
As I had decided to only do audio interviews with the drivers, the main challenge in editing the film was to combine their words and the visuals in such a way to compel the viewer into the world of the drivers. We probably spent most of the time working out the structure, first by just editing the audio interviews without any vision, before joining this up with the images. Once we had found the best structure, the rest of the editing went very quickly.

Any other projects in the pipeline?
For the last year, I have been developing a feature-length documentary project, entitled La Storage, through the Discovery Campus Masterschool. Humorous, romantic and surprising, La Storage is the story of the winners and losers of self storage auctions and their dreams and hopes for happiness. I have also just been commissioned to make another short documentary for the Scottish Documentary Institute, which is due to be completed in April. Later this year, I am hoping to travel to China to research my first fiction feature which is based there.

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