My short film The Land is set in a Welsh junkyard playground where kids can play with fire, hammers and nails.
Their play makes us cringe with fear, while simultaneously reminding us of our own favorite childhood memories. Most of what you see in the film are scenes of children immersed in deep, sometimes risky, play. I was born in 1981 and was fortunate to have a very playful childhood. I roamed the neighborhood with kids of all different ages and headed home only when the streetlights came on. In the subsequent decades since my youth, I have seen children’s culture diminish dramatically. It is a troubling trend.
As a new parent (my baby Asa was born last December), I feel even more strongly about advocating for a child’s right to play with fire, climb trees, and swear (just during playtime… not ALL of the time). One step onto The Land playground left me dizzy with inspiration. It is a beautiful contradiction. Though it looks like the LAST place you'd want to release a crew of kids - with its loose saws, tires, broken bikes, mud and more - The Land is the most child-centric environment I've ever experienced. Adult aesthetics, norms and rules simply do not apply. And it is completely liberating! What I hear from adult viewers is that The Land portrays childhood as they remember it. That is to say The Land portrays childhood with humor and delight but also grit and darkness. Play is not always nice or pleasing to adults. I did my best to have adults speaking as LITTLE as possible which is unusual for media about play and childhood. Usually films about this are packed with developmental experts reinforcing the benefits of play. I wanted the actions of the children in the film to speak for themselves.
The Land is a really effective tool for organizing. It's short enough to view and have a solid discussion during a lunch break or staff meeting. It has some good buzz among its core audience so when one person gets their hands on it, others will make a point to attend events to see it. One of my favorite screenings so far was at the Providence Children's Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. The room was packed with parents and teachers who were fed up with the diminishment of free play and children's culture. The Land really blew the conversation open because it shows what is possible. It shows that the spectrum of possibility for what we can let children do is much wider than we think. At that screening, parents were able to meet, mingle and commiserate. Even more exciting for me was that teachers met other teachers and swapped strategies about how to support play in their classrooms despite strict curriculum and protocol. I’m really proud of the film’s impact so far, and we’re just getting started! Learn more about Erin’s work.