One windy day out at the seaside Poppy spends most of the time asking her parents when it’s time to leave; a normal day for a teenage girl until she discovers military fatigues, meets a young lady in Gaza trapped beneath the rubble and eventually soldiers raid her home. Her family are dismissive but will eventually pay the price for brushing away her concerns.
So runs the plot of Poppy, a short film funded by the P21 Gallery in London, in association with Noon Vision Creative. Director Richard Platt, who put aside Casualty, Holby City and EastEnders to work on the production, tells me his heart is in making films and telling stories “that really mean something to me”.
The story is about England, or the west’s relationship with Palestine, but Platt says Poppy could be about violence and destruction in many different countries across the world because its message is universal. “The story of the film is about how we take for granted in our lives the wars in any place in the world, not just in Gaza but anywhere, because we see them as images on our news and they’re the background, the wallpaper if you like, to our lives because they’re always on TV and we just accept them… we wanted to make the war seem real to somebody that would otherwise have ignored it being on TV.”
Platt said he was inspired by an exhibition at the P21 Gallery in which soldiers had been photoshopped into pictures which depicted typical or normal English scenes, “it was basically how we don’t see conflicts anymore,” he says commenting on the exhibition. “We see a vista and we take for granted what we see as being what we see and we don’t dig beneath the surface to see the conflicts that are actually going on and therefore we don’t do anything about it politically and I think that’s what Tracey based the story of Poppy on,” he says of Tracy Brabin the screenwriter, who also features in the film as a news anchor.
“The basic concept was to say thank you to everybody who helped the victims of the war in Palestine, particularly Gaza, but there is still more to do,” says Platt, summarising. “We want to say thank you but you still need to advocate for political change rather than just sending aid.”
It’s difficult to capture so many ideas in such a short period of time – the film is only ten minutes long – but as Platt explains this is just enough time to deliver a message without “sounding preachy”, but at the same time create a film that is entertaining. “First of all your first duty is to make a piece of entertainment and if that entertainment illuminates a certain aspect of society, social or otherwise, then you’ve done your job… so ultimately it’s got to be entertaining and if it’s got a message there as well then great.”
The opening of the film features a track by Carl Barât, former Libertines star. Platt initially planned to use a track by another band, whose name he won’t reveal, until they got “cold-feet” on the basis that Poppy may be construed as an anti-Israeli piece.
“A week after agreeing the band had a sit down and a talk about it and decided they don’t want to be associated with anything remotely political or that could be conceived as being political presumably because they’re big in America and they don’t want to upset anybody. No one will face the elephant in the room over there,” explains Platt.
“It’s not an anti-Israeli piece it’s an anti-war piece,” he says, adding later: “It’s not controversial is it? It’s just anti-war. It’s not really controversial. It’s only really controversial because it’s Arab Israeli in this particular instance and it has those connotations of you’re either pro this or pro that. We’re not pro anything, we’re anti-war.”
One of the most moving parts of the film is the end, or the outro, which depicts the destruction in Gaza. Platt explains it was captured with a “riding drone shot” that gives the impression of gliding over the Strip and allows the viewer time to think about the film and Gaza.
As someone who has never been to Palestine, Platt says he was so moved by the images he asked Noon production if Gaza really looked like that. “It was beautiful and yet really, really shocking. As I sat watching it I couldn’t believe that people were living in this bombsite. It’s like the Second World War east end bombsite, it’s just rubble and kids are playing in it; life’s going on as normal but it’s just a bombsite. It’s outrageous, it’s terrible.”