Watch New Town Utopia
- 1 hr 21 min
New Town Utopia is a thought-provoking documentary film that explores the history of the town of Basildon in Essex, England, and its vision of being a utopia. The film, which is directed by Christopher Ian Smith, features interviews with residents, artists, historians, architects, and former politicians, who offer their insights into the town's past, present, and future.
The film opens with a series of scenes of modern-day Basildon, a town that appears to be stuck in a time warp with its 1950s-style buildings and bleak landscapes. The film then delves into the origins of Basildon, which was founded in the 1940s as a 'New Town' to address post-WWII housing shortages and to create a new, modern way of living. The decision to build Basildon was part of a larger political movement to create utopian communities that could address societal challenges.
The film's narrative takes us through a journey of the town's early years, highlighting its aesthetic ambitions, its modernist architecture, and progressive social programs. The film uses archive footage, interviews and images of Basildon and its residents over time, to illustrate the town's trajectory of dreams and disillusionments. We see Basildon evolve from promises of mass housing, to being a âthriving commercial centreâ that failed to deliver on its promises for job opportunities, to an abandoned dream of utopia.
The film portrays the various factors at play that impacted Basildon's path, including global economic trends, changes in political ideology, and the absence of any real long-term vision for the town. We see the former mayor of Basildon, Terry Bird, who laments that Basildon became a victim of its own success, as rapid expansion led to over-crowding, traffic congestion, and lack of community engagement.
The respondents in the film, who are former residents and others who have lived or worked in Basildon, offer their opinions on the town's past and present, and its prospects for the future. One of the central themes that emerge from these interviews is the sense of disconnection that residents feel with the town. This disconnection is apparent in the way the townâs spaces are experienced; the spatial relationships between shops and the surrounds, the trees and the street scape, people and the air quality.
Throughout the documentary, we see how the town's original idealism slowly fades away, as residents find themselves disconnected from their once progressive aspirations. Save for some street art, there is little effort to sustain the cultural and social vitality of the town to foster a sense of belonging. The film underscores the point that when the town was first planned, communal, and shared spaces had been at the heart of the architectsâ vision, however over time, little focus was given on sustaining such communal spaces, which then led to urban decay.
The film is narrated by Jim Broadbent, who has performed in numerous movies and TV shows, including "Iris," "Game of Thrones," and "Bridget Jonesâs Diary." Broadbentâs narration is subtle yet poignant in its delivery, providing a sensitive portrayal of both the town's idealism and its decline.
Vincent O'Connell is one of the respondents in the film who talks about his perspective on the town's issues. O'Connell, who is a resident of Basildon and a sound artist, brings a unique perspective to the film, helping to contextualize how the town's soundscape impacts on its residents' wellbeing. He draws attention to the various sounds heard in Basildon, including the incessant hum from the M25 motorway, the whirring of wind turbines, and the sounds of surrounding factories.
Overall, New Town Utopia is a thought-provoking documentary that asks questions about the relationship between architecture, politics, and people. The film offers a poignant depiction of a town's rise and fall, and its implications for future-planning. Through interviews with residents, artists, and historians, the film offers an opportunity for reflection on the influence of the built environment on our communities' social, cultural and economic wellbeing.
New Town Utopia is a 2018 documentary with a runtime of 1 hour and 21 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8.