An invitation to the White House: we go inside Dagenham's experimental art factory

By Stuart Jeffries

A bling soft play centre, an OAP brewery, a socialist Jack and the Beanstalk: Dagenham residents are waking up to the possibilities of art in a great suburb-wide experiment

‘The last thing this area needs,” snarls Ravinder Atwal, “is some middle-class film-maker reducing our community to a prose poem.” Her words come at the start of Patrick Goddard‘s new film about Dagenham. Atwal's in her VW campervan, driving Goddard to a car boot sale in the east London suburb so he can shoot some gritty footage of her trying to flog stuff to a pre-dawn crowd of geezers and lairy gents. He is sitting unseen in the passenger seat, filming her with a head-cam.

A prose poem may be the last thing Dagenham needs, but that's what it gets. Called Tune Into Sanity FM!, the film opens with Goddard exploring the idea that artists are little better than locusts, descending on an area, plundering it for material while misrepresenting and exploiting the locals. He illustrates this tension through his odd-couple relationship with Atwal, the youth team leader and self-styled ‘modern witch' he met shortly after taking up an artist's residency in Dagenham. “Maybe you're the carrot,” she snaps at one point. “That's what I'm saying.”

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