Picturing The Pickers

'Foreign Pickers' tackles an important theme but falls down on story-telling.

When I went to Stratford to see the launch screening of a film called Foreign Pickers I was surprised how empty the auditorium was. There were about 15 people in a massive lecture theatre, all of them aged over 50. I felt like I was in the wrong place.

Film-maker Kathryn Bohm was introduced to us, though she hardly needed an introduction because she already seemed to know most of the people there. She told us about her film and how it aims to show the continuity and the differences between the East Londoners who used to go out to Kent to pick hops in the summer, and the (mainly) East Europeans who work the same hop fields today.

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Hop picking had been a working holiday, based on East End families working together and living in caravans for a few weeks, before returning to the inner city. But now it often means highly mobile workers being separated from their families in order to find work, and going home only for their holidays.

I thought the film was not very well made. Some of the ‘heritage’ footage did not gel well with the rest of it. We get to hear what the job is like, but much of the interview material sounds over-rehearsed and unduly scripted. Towards the end there’s a conversation between an older lady and a Bulgarian man; she’s asking him about his home and what he’s going to do when he returns. He answers and tells her just about everything to do with his life. But the whole conversation feels odd and forced. I like the idea of introducing this character’s background into the film, but surely it could have been done more naturally. Another problem was the way the film would still show the previous speaker while a new one had started talking. Maybe this was deliberate – an attempt to show the continuity between them; or perhaps it was a continuity error. Either way, it wasn’t helpful.

I thought there was a strong idea here and a good story worth telling well. But this wasn’t the way to do it. However you can judge for yourself by watching Foreign Pickers here .