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A review from The Observer

(Sunday, 13 June 2010)

This affecting, deeply depressing documentary sees its director returning to his native Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, which someone jokily describes as "a drug town with a serious tourist problem".

His mission is to discover why so many of his contemporaries, born in the first years of Thatcher's regime, end up as drug-addicted, chain-smoking, alcoholic burnouts going to early graves.

The answer “deindustrialisation and irreversible social change” is heartbreakingly obvious.

A review from The Independent

(Friday, 11 June 2010)

In his film, and more reflectively in conversation, Lewis posits many reasons why his one-time mates, and Hebden Bridge itself, have turned out the way they have. This was a town, like many others, that was almost left for dead after the mills closed; it was discovered by hippies and others, who found dramatic landscape and dirt-cheap housing. After the hippies came the yuppies, with well-paid jobs in Leeds and Bradford. To a place already awash with drugs and free-living was added money and gentrification. The natives had lost their town, but they had nowhere else to go.

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A review from The Times

(Friday, 11 June 2010)

The camera becomes a confessional for damaged souls who are running out of options; Lewis himself becomes a one-man intervention, firmly confronting first Cass and then Silly with the bleak facts about their conditions.

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A review from the Daily Telegraph by Sukhdev Sandhu

(Thursday, 10 June 2010)

Shed Your Tears And Walk Away is one of the saddest films I've seen in a very long time. In it, debut documentarian Jez Lewis returns to Hebden Bridge, the small West Yorkshire market town that he left years before. It's a picturesque place speckled with cottages and sunny bridges, greenery and canals. In recent decades, after the decline of its mill industries, it became popular with artists and bohemians.

For Lewis, Hebden Bridge is a "madhouse fuelled by drink and drugs".

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A review from the Daily Mirror

(Thursday, 10 June 2010)

Aside from being a haven for achingly trendy bohemians, the Yorkshire village of Hebden Bridge is becoming known for something else - namely its serious drink and drugs problem.

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A review from The Guardian

(Thursday, 10 June 2010)

Jez Lewis has made a passionate and sometimes despairing documentary about his hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, a place whose beauty and outward placidity conceals a malaise. Drink- and drug-addiction is killing young people, including many of those Lewis grew up with. Overdoses and suicides are rife.

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A review from the Financial Times

(Thursday, 10 June 2010)

Shed Your Tears and Walk Away showed at the London Film Festival, where it walked away with everyone's tears. First-time director Jez Lewis (who wrote and produced Ghosts, Nick Broomfield's re-enactment of the lives and deaths of the Chinese cockle-fishers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004) takes a Sony digital camera up to Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Here he films the slow ruination “by drugs and alcohol” of the lives of townsfolk he grew up with.

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A review by Jill Robinson of the first showing
of the film in Hebden Bridge

Jez Lewis’s debut feature, portraying the lives of alcoholics in Hebden Bridge, makes for harrowing viewing. At one point I wondered if I was watching an extended advertisement for Special Brew, since the main subjects were so frequently to be seen holding cans of this beverage. Sometimes the camera showed a can on a wall, or a bench, or a step, waiting to be picked up and consumed; and the film would have benefited from more rigorous editing in this respect.

Lewis was inspired to make his film when he found himself returning to his home town increasingly frequently to attend the funerals of his contemporaries, either as a result of suicide, or because of self-destructive behaviour.

In a short spoken preamble to the screening of the film to a packed Picture House, Lewis made clear that he had not intended to show life in Hebden Bridge in the round. Instead, he focused on two of his former school classmates, ‘Cas’ and ‘Silly’, now in their forties. During the course of extended interviews with these men, their unhappy earlier lives were explored, offering some explanation as to why they now lived as they did, hanging out in Hebden park in their ‘office’ under the steps, drinking, drinking, drinking. (Cas had experienced family problems as a child, while Silly had spent time in the Foreign Legion, where an enemy combatant turned out to be a boy soldier.) It had reached a point where Cas had been given only two more years to live if he did not alter his behaviour, while Silly’s fiancee was obliged to cancel their wedding because Silly’s drinking had got out of hand. To his credit, Cas embarked on a course of detox, and travelled to a London centre accompanied by Lewis, gamely combining his role as film auteur with that of chaperone. Cas found the detox rules too strict and left; but he tried again, and is now said to be making some progress.

Viewers were also shown troubled younger Hebden residents, one of whom stated that he had been in a mental hospital as a result of hearing voices in his head. He attributed these problems to his consumption of ‘skunk’. Also featured were member of the Jones family, who lost their son Sam during the filming of "Shed Your Tears…". Sam’s older brother Liam, interviewed at some length in the film, recently also died, and the scene where he talks about losing Sam is especially difficult to watch, knowing as we do that he is no longer alive. Similarly heartbreaking was the sequence where Nicola, aged 21, poses for Cas’s camera outside the late shop, happy and pretty. In the very next scene her boyfriend is shown looking at her funeral flowers. So Lewis has his point proved twice over during the time of filming; some people in Hebden Bridge are dying tragically young, and this is extremely sad, very worrying, and not readily explicable.

The Hebweb and various newspapers have carried lengthy discussions as to why the problem of early self-inflicted deaths exists in Hebden, and whether it is worse here than in other places. Various explanations have been offered, including the effects of ‘valley bottom fever’, where people living on the shaded side of the town do not experience direct sunlight for many months of the year; the recent gentrification of the town, and the fact that local people find it difficult to find jobs and buy houses; and the legacy of the town’s hippy past, when the open consumption of certain drugs may perhaps have come to be regarded as normal.

"Shed Your Tears…" was not intended to present explanations or solutions; rather, it is a deeply affecting case study of a selected aspect of life in Hebden Bridge. It has served to raise awareness of the drink and drugs problems and has also raised the blood-pressure of those who consider that it depicts Hebden Bridge in a false light.

Many films have been made in and around the town, and as the forthcoming season of locally set movies will show, each one takes a different perspective of life in the locality. Those wanting a more optimistic view of local life will be better off going to see a "A Boy, A Girl and A Bike", since "Shed Your Tears..." makes for a distressing hour and a half. And I for one don’t wish to see anyone else raising yet another can of ‘Spesh’.

Local writer Jill Robinson is the author of Berringden Brow, Sons and Lodgers and A Place Like this.

See also

HebWeb News: Let’s not walk away. Let’s walk together (March 2010)

HebWeb Forum (March 2010)

HebWeb News: (Feb 2010)

HebWeb News: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct 2009)

HebWeb Forum: ‘The lost boys of Hebden Bridge’ (Feb-March 2010)

HebWeb Forum: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct-Dec 2009)

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