A tale of one city: London under lockdown

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A tale of one city: London under lockdown

As the capital's streets remain deserted, one film-maker travels in to document history as it happens

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

Deserted London
Deserted London

When you are tired of London, you are tired of life – or so said the 18th century writer, Dr Samuel Johnson. But people aren’t tired of London;
they are having to stay away because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To show how the capital has changed in the past few weeks, Jewish film and documentary maker Michal McEwen has created a dramatic video comprising eerily quiet footage of London during lockdown.

Michal, who also teaches film at Akiva and Alma primary schools, decided to take her camera into the capital to capture the normally bustling streets that are now deserted because of government advice to stay away to limit the spread of the deadly disease.

The film, set to Strange Times, a haunting original song written and performed by Jewish jazz singer and songwriter Lana Shelley, features striking footage of London, including Camden, Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Borough Market and the South Bank taken on Sunday, 29 March.

Deserted London in lockdown

“In London that Sunday, the only people present seemed to be runners, cyclists and Deliveroo drivers – there was not a tourist in sight,” says Finchley-based Michal. “I wanted to catch the silence and strange tranquillity of the city like I have never seen it before.

Lana Shelley wrote the song Strange Times to accompany Michal McEwen’s film

“I usually make documentaries about family histories, but the current situation is history in the making.
I thought carefully before going to film in town. This is my profession, and this is something I could not do from home. I was very careful to maintain social distance at all times, as indeed was everyone else who
I saw that day.”

Michal, who is an experienced film-maker and has created videos for businesses and charities, including Learning from the Righteous, the Jewish Curriculum Partnership (now PaJeS) and the NHS, contacted Lana to ask if she had any songs that would work with her footage.

“I sent her a couple that I’d already recorded, but then I watched the
video and, 20 minutes later, called her and said, ‘I’ve just written a song’. Well, it actually wrote itself,” says Lana, who by day is known as children’s entertainer Ilana Banana.

“I did a couple of verses and sent it to a friend in Israel, Adar Avisar,
who has a studio, and he finished it off.

“It had to be a melancholy song to reflect her images of these places, which are normally full of life, and these strange times we’re in.”

Adar edited Lana’s music with musicians around the world, including Israel, New York and Paris, to provide the background music featuring violin, guitar and drums, putting it together while he was on army reserve duty.

Film-maker Michal McEwen wanted to document life in London under the lockdown

The film is the first in a series Michal is hoping to produce and has also been documenting, via FaceTime, Zoom, or – before lockdown – in a local park, how her friends and family in London and around the world are coping under the unusual circumstances.

“My work has completely stopped, so I now have time to be creative and
do things I’ve always wanted to do. I’m documenting everything – I’m recording myself, my children and my family, creating video diaries each week to see how things progress,” she explains.

The normally bustling Leicester Square is pictured deserted

“While my family in Israel is in lockdown and are not allowed to venture more than 100m from their home, my in-laws in Denmark merely have to take a train to Sweden, where they can enjoy a life before coronavirus, otherwise known as BC.

“A friend in Barcelona is stressing and adamant that this is a conspiracy theory or the work of aliens, while my friend in Israel is taking the opportunity to relax and have a break from the hecticness of life.”

View the film below:




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