Speaking in his own words, the London-based artist reveals the story behind his latest project – a film titled Diddly Squat
The concept of home is one many of us are a little too familiar with right now. But for Frank Lebon, the question of what home means exactly – and how far some might go to secure one – is the crux of his latest film, Diddly Squat.
A 15-minute short about squatting in London, the film sees Lebon’s signature melding of cut-and-paste graphics and animation meet disarmingly intimate camera work. Told from the perspective of both the squatter and the squatted, it explores unconventional choices and the moral grey areas found in ownership, public and private living, family and community.
The film, which is scored by the electronic duo Mount Kimbie, follows an expecting young couple, Archy and Rachel, as they try to get their act together and find somewhere to live. When the owner of the squat they settle on finds his livelihood compromised and the law against him, the right to a home is brought into question.
Explaining his first foray into filming dialogue, Frank says, “most of the relationships were built to create a feeling of home and belonging, whether it’s neighbours and sweepers or a squatting community. Or even the relationship you have with a space. I personally feel quite strong bonds with places I live or work in.”
Filmed in and around the space that inspired it, Diddly Squat combines magical elements in visual trickery with jolts of the bathos and humour fans of Lebon’s work have come to expect. Here, speaking in his own words, the filmmaker tells us more about it.
“Diddly Squat is loosely based on the true story of a property my brother bought. The landlord who sold it to him was a part of the community – the space was his workshop and when it was squatted, he had to fight long and hard to get the squatters out. Unlike in Diddly Squat, he did it via legal means, though at enormous cost. But even once the squatters were evicted, he couldn’t start his practice again as his machines had been destroyed in the process. As someone used to hearing the squatter’s position, the landlord’s perspective was new to me – I could see both sides. My interest in this narrative grew from there.
“I spoke with friends who squat or have squatted and with landlords who have had their property squatted. Videos and news stories of similar dilemmas before 2012 – when it became illegal to squat in residential buildings – were interesting to watch and I dug deep online and on forums. My friend who has squatted talked me through the procedure of putting documentation on the door as soon as you enter and then, online, I found the legal document you need to print.
“On a personal level, I grew up in a very unconventional home. It was a garage that at times felt like a squat – the roof was made from corrugated plastic and would leak or fly off in heavy winds. We also didn’t have any central heating and used little gas or electric heaters. We showered with a hose, there were no doors and we even had my dad’s car (which didn’t work half the time) parked in the ‘living room’ – if you could call it a living room. I definitely drew from my childhood experience of living in such a mad place and it informed Archy’s view on what a home meant for him, and why he was keen to find home in an unconventional living situation.
“Working with Mount Kimbie again was exciting because they hadn’t done a score before. Usually, when we collaborate, they’ve already set the tone with their music and then I am left to my own devices to draw inspiration from their creation and make a visual. This time, however, I was setting the tone. I imagined the score feeling very organic and emotional while simultaneously having a mechanical systematic feeling to it – it’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling MK created so well.
“Naturally, the way you view a film changes massively through the editing process – you discover new directions and let go of old ones – and this was definitely amplified as I edited through lockdown. I went out and shot certain B-roll elements during lockdown myself, such as windows at night or furniture left on the street. London was so empty at the time, it became a real pleasure and informed the edit and mood of the film.
“The story’s moral grey area, that it had no right or wrong and both good and bad, was fascinating for me. I hope any viewer can find something they relate to. I want them to feel like they were part of the discussion of what home means. I don’t mind if they felt particularly sad – or happy – for any specific character, but I want the viewer to engage in the conversation as a whole, questioning what defines a home in the first place.”
Watch Diddly Squat here.