Its a strange thing knowing that this documentary was not even homegrown, but was made by the Swedish. Why did Swedish documentary makers decide upon Scotland to make a film about poverty? What is even stranger is why they chose Motherwell?
Its known that in general the west of Scotland has particularly poor health outcomes, high levels of obesity, alcohol/drug use, short life expectancy and also a significant problem with violence and young pregnancy. Typically these documentaries would focus on Glasgow however Motherwell in Lanarkshire is also on par for these grim statistics on life outcomes.
This documentary follows an 18 year old girl, Gemma who is looked after by her paternal grandfather. If I recall correctly her father is in jail and she was left by her mother as a child and has no contact. Her grandfather is a pigeon fancier and runs a boxing gym where Gemma also trains, he treats her like a boy and she is very much a tomboy, footage shows her in gang fights and drinking with the boys her own age.
Her motto in life is either get knocked up (pregnant) or get locked up (go to jail). Its obvious she has no real ambition to either leave her housing scheme or to aim for an education and a career. She views pregnancy as a route to a flat.
With these ambitions and the gang she keeps as company, it doesn't take a genius to see where this story is going to end. This is oddly the most frustrating part of the documentary, the risks for all involved are there to see and some of them are horrifically realised.
Unprotected sex, alcohol/drug use and regular violence. The outcomes are widely reported however this film gives you a front row seat. It will shock many who are unaware of the carnage on Scottish streets and the life changing effect of brutal violence which is mainly ignored by the press. Because its just so common.
While these types of films have been labelled as "poverty porn" in the UK after similar productions such as The Scheme or Benefits Street, this definitely has a much higher production value. The cinematography and score are great and well suited to the subject matter.
However ethically it may well be on the same level as The Scheme, put a camera in front of a few teenagers drunk on Buckfast its quite likely they will act up just for show. One fight in particular looks staged as the boys involved are smiling.
How you feel about this documentary will be based on how you view these people, those who write them off as Neds probably won't care, while those who pity them (equally patronising) will probably came away thinking they are "better people" for having watched it.
The irony being that the latter, mainly middle class would probably avoid these people at all cost or openly despise them. These are resilient people who understand the limitations of their environment but still engage with the lives on offer.
I can see some people watching the inevitable teenage pregnancies shown and thinking its a disgrace. However research has established this motherhood/fatherhood can have a stabilizing effect on chaotic lives.
The documentary does however show where the current Scottish government get their support, the narrative being that its all Maggie Thatchers fault Motherwell has no jobs, which this endorses. However this is a myth, these industries ended because they were no longer profitable.
Is there profit in cinema like this?
Whats unusual about Scheme Birds is that it appears to be more well known outside of Scotland and with the middle classes, rather than the people at the heart of the film.
Its now on Streaming platforms so if you get the chance to see it, its well worth your time. And if you enjoy it I would also recommend the book Poverty Safari which explores similar issues in working class Scotland.