Did you ever feel like you just wanted to belong? To feel part of something bigger? In Oscar Hudson’s powerful short Joy in People, we follow the film’s central character Ben, as he goes on the search for a sense of belonging after his counsellor tells him “there’s joy in other people”. Covertly filmed amid the very real crowds of the 2016 European Football Championships and released just as the 2018 World Cup has come to an end, though football supporters feature heavily in Hudson’s film, it tackles much bigger themes – from happiness to nationality.
“Ideas about national identity & borders were bang smack at the front of people’s minds”
Joy in People is an unusual film for many reasons. Firstly, its docu-fiction approach means that even though its storyline is fictional, the film feels incredibly believable, to the point where it’s almost painfully uncomfortable to watch its lead character go through this experience. Secondly, it covers such a range of subjects, from religion to mental health, in its brief 15-minute run-time, it’s somewhat dizzying to take it all in.
“I’ve always been interested in the strange theatrical relationship between nationalism and football – a phenomenon fresh in everyone’s mind after the recent World Cup”, says Hudson when discussing the drive to make Joy in People. “This tournament (Euro 2016) was particularly interesting in that regard as it took place right in the middle of the European Migrant crisis and also on the eve of the Brexit vote – so ideas about national identity & borders were bang smack at the front of people’s minds. It felt like such a strange & poignant moment to invite people from all across Europe to gather for a great big festival of soft-nationalism”.
Tapping into a sense of national pride (or disappointment) that millions of people will have experienced during the World Cup, Hudson has picked a particularly opportune moment to release his film. With national pride exploding here in England when the football team for once managed to exceed expectations and reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, ideas of nationality have been fresh in my mind ever since the first premature chants of “it’s coming home” started ringing around the nation.
What decides your nationality? Is it your parents heritage, where you spent most of your life or simply where you were born? I’ve no real problem with national pride if it’s an exercise in positivity and sharing, but too often in recent times its been used as a cloaking device for spreading fear and hate – something that is touched upon in Joy in People. Hudson’s film doesn’t ever look like it’s interested in providing answers to the ever-increasing array of questions surrounding identity and acceptance, but instead its unique and authentic approach should have you deeply considering your own reflections on these subjects.
Watching Joy in People is a physical, unsettling and overwhelming experience (in this way it reminds me a lot of another S/W feature in Aneil Karia’s BEAT), but it’s not just the subject that causes this reaction. The filmmaking approach makes it feel like you’re joining protagonist Ben on his journey and even though you know his story is fictional, the emotions and topics covered in the film feel very real.
“The approach was much more documentary than regular fiction and I wanted that doc aesthetic to be part of the films language”, Hudson explains. “All of the crowd scenes are obviously captured within real crowds, so we were very much reacting to what was going on around us and letting spontaneous events guide our shooting days and to some extent the story in the film too. With one or two exceptions, all speaking characters besides Ben were unaware they were on film. We shot on long lenses from the edge of the crowds and spent hours at a time trawling for good material & interactions”.
Oscar is a director the Vimeo-dwelling members of the S/W team keep an eagle-eye on for new work. He’s consistently impressing us with his inventive music video work (which includes promos for Radiohead, Darwin Deez, Young Fathers and more) and its great to see this creative approach carried over into his film work. Now working on a feature script, alongside his short film and music video projects, the filmmaker admits his main aim is to “work diversely and stay productive”.