Mark Isaacs debut documentary short Lift (2001) explores the lives of the residents of an east London tower block exclusively through encounters in the building’s lift. Filmed over the course of two months, inside the lift for sometimes 8-hours at a time, Isaacs provides a captivating glimpse of British society in the early 2000s through a series of transient encounters that reveal a wealth of human stories.
Isaacs’ deliberate subversion of the prescribed social etiquette of lift spaces underpins many of the scenes in Lift. He captures the familiar uncomfortable intimacy of shared space and prescribed silence, revelling in enduring silences and awkward glances toward the camera. Humour is found in briefly enclosing discordant characters in the lift, whilst Isaacs’ timing and directness steer scenes toward comedy.
The residents of different cultures, nationalities and religions all passing through the same shared space see the lift assume a microcosmic quality, exemplifying Britain’s multicultural social fabric. Without sentimentality Issacs exposes both its cohesion and friction. One scene sees Isaacs share a traditional Bengali delicacy with one of the residents, whilst another finds Jean an older Jewish resident admitting to ‘counting the white people last night when I couldn’t sleep’.
Although humour runs throughout many of Lift’s scenes, Isaacs also fosters an introspective aspect, puncturing moments of silence to ask residents ‘have you ever been in love?’ ‘what have you been thinking about today?’ and ‘what did you dream about last night?’. Responses are unexpected, funny and often moving. It is through these questions that notions of love, loneliness, death and faith enter the lift – a turn inward that is signalled by shots that take us inside the lift shaft…
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