Featuring Marion Hawkes, AyeLand and others at the centre of Belfast’s creative boom, EAST documents a thriving scene that maintains the area’s core values.
Against the backdrop of growing uncertainty following Brexit and 18 months of tight COVID-19 restrictions young people and especially creatives in Northern Ireland are up against it. Touring in Europe as a musician comes with caveats and new fees, political discourse is often dominated by antiquated issues and figuring out how to operate in a post-COVID landscape is proving tricky.
However, a bright spark amongst the confusion has been the rise of East Belfast as a burgeoning creative community. Traditionally a staunch loyalist area, the east is now providing a home to a slew of young creatives rewriting narratives through their work without compromising its unique character. Capturing this evolution as it happens, EAST is produced by The Night Institute who teamed up with film makers Ross McClean and Kevin Gartland on the project.
Shot during the pandemic and featuring contributions from DJ and Record Store owner Marion Hawkes, creative hub AyeLand, party throwers Plain Sailing locals from the area putting the collaborative energy of the community front and centre.
Ahead of the film we spoke to Jordan McCuaig and Timmy Stewart of The Night Institute and filmmakers Ross McClean and Kevin Gartland.
District: When it came to creating the film, what was the core idea or notion you wanted to showcase about the area?
Timmy Stewart: The people who live and work in east Belfast are very passionate about what they do and the area in general, so it was really important that came across in the film. We had a clear idea of who we wanted to be in the film from the concept stage and were pleased when most agreed to be involved.
Jordan McCuaig: Resilience was one of the original talking points when we first started discussing the idea. We were in the middle of the first lockdown, yet all these exciting creative projects seemed to be thriving against all odds.
Ross McClean: It’s difficult to find a documentary about Belfast that doesn’t dive into the violent history or current politics. For the team, we didn’t want to fall into this trap. It’s important to remind both local and international audiences there’s more going on here than what the usual headlines cover.
District: How important was it to confront the stereotypes or outdated ideas when it came to creating the film?
Timmy: Belfast certainly has to live with a shadow cast by the past but it’s also a very welcoming place. We didn’t want to focus too much on a lot that has already been covered on screen about the city before but at the same time to not pretend it’s not part of the DNA too. A main aim was to showcase the east as being progressive, which it is.
District: Would you agree there’s a certain degree of synergy to the way people who have grown up in more traditional industries and jobs in East co-exist with the tide of creatives coming through? There’s not really the friction one might expect.
Kevin Gartland: Yes, I would agree. I feel that growth in creativity and entrepreneurship in East is a natural evolution of the traditional jobs and industries that have existed here. Some of the past industries, such as the shipyards and manufacturing have declined over the years, so it’s interesting that those spaces are now being used in new innovative ways – rather than left dormant. I think other areas of Belfast, particularly the City Centre, could look the East and begin to rethink how they can open up unused spaces to new industries and ways of working.
District: How do you see the area developing in the next 5-10 years?
Jordan McCuaig: The forward trajectory is really promising, hopefully in five to ten years the area has evolved to the sort of place I can bring my son to well utilised public spaces by day, and by night can visit progressive, forward-looking music spaces with a bit of edge. Yin & Yang.
Kevin Gartland: I can definitely see the area creatively growing more and more over the years, and also hopefully spreading to other areas of Belfast. Belfast is currently a great place for opportunity, if you want to start a project or start-up then I feel its a lot easier than other capitals, so I hope this spirit of opportunity continues to grow.
Watch EAST below:
Marion Hawkes opens her new record store Sound Advice in Portview Trade Centre shortly, keep in the loop via their Instagram.
Elsewhere on District: September: The 20 best electronic tracks this month.