As a community organiser says at the start of this documentary, the name Toxteth – apparently hardly used in the area pre-1981 – has become synonymous with riots. Directors Daniel Draper and Allan Melia set out to show otherwise in this artfully shot but only loosely structured documentary; less an oral history of the L8 postcode than a contemporary social snapshot with a neighbourly penchant for doorstep chats in search of the Toxteth spirit.
“There’s a lot going on,” observes a Nigerian-Russian-Spanish-Jewish beautician. It’s Toxteth’s multiculturalism and tolerant ethos, on streets once occupied by dock workers, that Almost Liverpool 8 is most at pains to show. We encounter Jamaican beekeepers, Yemeni newsagents, Arab rotisserie workers. The area is home to what may be the UK’s oldest black community and Draper and Melia include a short section on how Toxteth mobilised for Black Lives Matter. But it’s here that their celebratory approach shows its limits: refusing to delve into the 1981 unrest allows us to glean only an indirect understanding of the community’s underlying concerns and its long-term politics.
Interestingly, Toxteth, instead, seems to bring out the epistemologists in Draper and Melia, who like to question how we know what we know about the area. Veteran photographer Don McCullin, who documented its streets pre-slum clearance in the early 1970s, serves as a touchstone; the directors spend some time tracking down the location of the shot used to front his current Tate Liverpool retrospective. But a local historian interviewed playfully questions the veracity of McCullin’s picture, and the latter’s own recollections of it turn out to be inaccurate. Later, the film-makers quote Cartier-Bresson: “Do we always cut out what we should?”
Frequently shooting themselves in the act of shooting, Draper and Melia seem to be highlighting their part in constructing the image of a neighbourhood whose past representation they are contesting; a self-consciousness that balances out the scouse front sometimes on display (As poet Roger McGough says: “I always had this feeling that everyone really would rather be a Liverpudlian.”). With intelligence as well as camaraderie, they say: it’s the people who make Toxteth.