Dr Iqbal Barkat from the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies has directed a new film: Losing Ground, Holding Place, which tells the story of a community that lived in a chaotic, contested and difficult situation within a public housing estate in the suburbs of a global city and yet emerged spiritually rich, generous and connected.

From early 2001, The Salvation Army ran a live-in community house at 47 Ivanhoe Place – the No. 47 Project – in Ivanhoe Estate, a public housing community in Macquarie Park in Sydney. The No. 47 Project provided support, safety and inspiration to residents and acted as a focus for wider engagement between Ivanhoe Estate and surrounding institutions until the Estate’s closure in late 2018 to allow demolition and redevelopment as a high-density mixed residential precinct. The film is about how a social housing estate became a home for its residents – a place of safety, refuge, recognition and shared belonging that made it a successful account of place-making. Despite its success the community was eventually unable to protect itself and succumbed to redevelopment to meet the economic and planning imperatives of the state government.

We spoke to Iqbal to hear his thoughts on why Losing Ground, Holding Place is important. You can watch the full film here.

What is Losing Ground, Holding Place about? How did you become acquainted with the 47 Ivanhoe Estate community, and why did you decide to make this film?

Stills from Losing Ground

Losing Ground, Holding Place is a community film that documents the memories and impressions of residents and other stakeholders of the work of the Salvation Army members who lived and served in the Ivanhoe Estate for over 17 years. This work was transformational and led to the building of a thriving community. The film is a celebration of this community right here on the doorstep of  Macquarie University.

The film is part of a larger research project that aimed to understand how the commitment of the Salvation Army members to living with and serving the community with a generous and unconditional welcome nurtured transformation of the Ivanhoe Estate.  I was part of this research group, together with Prof Ritchie Howitt (FoA), Dr Kath McLachlan (FoHS), Dr Matalena Tofa (PACE), Mr Nathan Moulds (TSA), Ms Garima Misra (TSA) and Mr Phillip Osborne (ex-resident of the estate).

What surprised you in getting to know the community and making the film?The cast of Losing Ground

Before the project started, I had no idea that such a wonderful community existed right in the heart of Macquarie Park.  When we started making the film, the community was in the process of being moved due to the impending closure of the estate. Even though it was a stressful and anxious time for many of the people involved, they only showed us kindness, generosity and welcome. It a moving experience for us.

How did the collaboration with the Salvation Army and other partners help the project?

A few academics from the research team and myself had worked with Nathan from The Salvation Army on a community film project on interpersonal racism in the Ryde area. It was a fantastic collaboration that also involved many of our PACE students. I knew that I wanted to work with the same team again and also apply the model of community filmmaking and working with PACE interns on another project.

The Salvation Army provided partial funding, staffing and in-kind support. They had great respect for our university and went out of their way to ensure that it was a successful collaboration.  One of the main outcomes of the project was a report to the Salvation Army and this has now been delivered.

What is your favourite moment in the film?

When we made the film, the estate was being demolished. The shots of the estate showed disrepair, abandonment and decay. Yet over these shots we see and hear voices telling us what a wonderful place the estate was. This juxtaposition is very powerful and moving.

Images from the film show Ivanhoe Estate in disrepair.
Images from the film show Ivanhoe Estate in disrepair.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?

I hope viewers understand the kind of work and commitment that it takes to build a resilient community. We need to hear more stories of such communities.