At the beginning of Our Park, director Gillian Leahy describes parks as places in which the conflicts between the “tame and the wild” are played out, and as sites where city dwellers can play out their relationship with nature. This is a documentary about a community’s relationship to their park, specifically White Creek Valley Park, or as the local community prefers to call it, “our park”.
The film was originally envisaged as a ‘slice of park life’, but during the filming, the focus turned from the park itself to the community and its attempts to settle a conflict. It is also a film about the role of the filmmaker. Gillian Leahy was more than the director of this film; as a member of the community, she was also a central participant in the conflict and the documentary.
Our Park documents a year in the life of the Park and the conflict and explores the relationship of a particular community to its own patch of nature. We learn that the local council wants to expand the park area, but the community is divided as to how this should be achieved and to what ends the new space will be used. As the film progresses we find ourselves privy to a full scale community conflict. At the centre of this conflict is No. 31, a house and sheds, and two neighbours Kerry and Kostas who have conflicting ideas as to how the sheds should be used. Kostas wants the shed to be ‘neat and tidy’, a place where he can store garden tools and friends can run pottery workshops. Kerry wants it to be ‘functional’ with open access – a place where anyone can do anything. Leahy mirrors their conflict by juxtaposing images of the ‘tame’ and ordered parts of the park, with the ‘wild’ and weedy areas. Just as there is no simple resolution to the conflict, there is no desire to change the balance of tame and wild – only a need to negotiate it to ensure that ‘our park’ remains a place for recreation and contemplation.
However, this film is not just about the war between Arthur and Kerry, but also about the role that Gillian Leahy plays in all of this. She acknowledges the problems in being both a filmmaker and an activist. At the start of the film, a comment from Kostas is directed at Gillian: ‘Gill, you either make a movie or participate in the discussion.’ Such a comment suggests that it is impossible to do both, that observational films have to be impartial in order to reveal anything. Leahy proves otherwise as she both makes an engaging film about a community attempting to work through a conflict and plan for the future, whilst also being an active citizen participating in grassroots democracy.