A housing project in Northern England known as The Arbor left an indelible impression on playwright Andrea Dunbar. She grew up there, named her first play after it, and based all of her subsequent work there. Director Clio Barnard could have adapted Dunbar’s play The Arbor for the screen or made a conventional documentary on her life, but instead she has crafted a captivating and truly unique work that transcends genre and defies categorization.
After spending two years conducting audio interviews with Dunbar’s family, friends, and neighbors, Barnard filmed actors lip-synching the interviews, flawlessly interpreting every breath, tick, and nuance. Barnard’s film focuses in particular on the playwright’s troubled relationship with her daughter Lorraine. Dunbar died tragically in 1990 at age 29; Barnard connects with Lorraine—now age 29 herself—to reintroduce her to her mother’s plays and private letters, prompting her to reflect on the parallels between their lives. Interwoven with these interviews are staged scenes of Dunbar’s play filmed on the street where she lived. Barnard seamlessly stitches together these disparate but innovative elements, matching Dunbar’s unconventional life with a befittingly unconventional film. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival’s David Kwok]