Short film is a ‘beautiful document of Sheffield’ during Coronavirus pandemic

A ‘romantic portrait of Sheffield’ has brought together the city’s young people, creatives and iconic landmarks in the form of a short black and white film shot during the depths of lockdown.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 10:04 am

‘Penalty of Our Paradox’, a short-film about Sheffield’s high streets, unites some of the city’s best artists to focus on the city centre at a bizarre and troubling time in its history.

The team at Site Gallery, which is located in the city centre on Brown Street, collaborated with young people from the city, along with Sheffield’s former poet laureate Otis Mensah and filmmaker Smart Banda, to create a project inspired by Historic England’s Future of the High Street project.

The result is a four and a half minute black and white film taking you through Sheffield’s eerily quiet city centre during lockdown, visiting closed bakeries and bars, and some of the faces braving the snow, sunshine or night time darkness, along the way.

Poet Otis Mensah and filmmaker Smart Banda outside the Site Gallery.
Poet Otis Mensah and filmmaker Smart Banda outside the Site Gallery.

Pictures of empty escalators, abandoned squares, silent shopping arcades, closed pubs and shops combined show the dramatic impact lockdown had on a once bustling city.

Signs about face masks are plastered onto shop windows, and others on the road read ‘essential travel only’.

Peter Martin, participation manager at Site Gallery, told the Sheffield Telegraph: “We have a young people’s group at Site Gallery called ‘Society of Explorers’, which is a 14-18 year-old group of people from Sheffield, so we are always on the lookout for projects for them to get involved with so that was the first port of call, and then secondly Sheffield has a really amazing talent pool of poets, and creatives so we thought we were in a really strong position.

“So we wrote a bid for Historic England and we were successful, so we were able to commission former Sheffield poet laureate Otis Mensah and filmmaker Smart Banda because it is really important to give opportunities, and commission paid artists in Sheffield in this challenging time.”

Sheffield city centre by Peter Martin

Poet Otis Mensah has created a high street poem inspired by Sheffield’s city centre, as well as the group of 14-18 year-olds that attend Site Gallery’s weekly sessions.

One of the most poignant lines he reads in the film is “to be someone, with somewhere to be”, recalling the weeks when the only place we could be, was home.

The poem is narrated onto black and white film depicting Sheffield’s high street shops, roads and people, and accompanied by a ‘beautiful’ piano score; all wrapped together by filmmaker, Smart.

However, participation manager Peter was also pulled in to take the photographs after Smart was unable to get back into Sheffield due to Covid restrictions at the time.

The film is a "beautiful document of Sheffield during uncertain time," said Site Gallery participation manager Peter Martin, who took the photos.

Peter, who came to Sheffield in 2010 and ‘fell in love with it’, said: "So initially Otis worked with the Society of Explorers over three workshops and got the young people to talk about the High Street.

“He then pulled that into a poem and he recorded it and added a really beautiful piano score and working with the filmmaker they made a storyboard, and then, because of Covid it got really complicated, and the project got delayed and by the time it got to filming Smart was stick out of Sheffield, so I had to take the photographs under his instructions.

“I am a photographer anyway, but it was definitely one of those weird Covid situations.”

The inspiration for shooting the photos on black and white film came by chance after the team saw a picture of Sheffield in The Guardian newspaper’s ‘My Favourite Photograph’ section.

'Penalty of Our Paradox' is now available online.

They liked the aesthetic of the black and white image so much that they thought it would create a ‘beautiful document’ of Sheffield.

“We got all the film developed and handed it back to Smart and he edited over the music and the poem and we have this beautiful document of Sheffield in this really uncertain time,” Peter said.

"We have had loads of people saying its nice to see a romantic portrait of Sheffield and seeing all the characters on the street.

“I have always been really passionate about high streets and there’s always those little stories and moments that play such a big part in people’s lives – whether its as a young person, going to shops and socialising with friends, or the community aspect of just mooching around town like my nan used to do every day."

Peter says young people from the Site Gallery ‘Society of Explorers’ group made the film ‘richer’ thanks to a different perspective – and more young people are wanted to join the group.

Peter added: "The film was made richer because of the input of our young person’s group.

A still from Penalty of Our Paradox

"We meet every week and we are always looking for young people, and it would be great to contact us.

"They have a more emotional connection to the High Street, and they were talking about the smell, not something we had taken in – so it was nice to get a different perspective.”

The film is part of a wider season of virtual events being put on by the Site Gallery.

Click here to watch ‘Penalty of Our Paradox’ or to see what else is on.