By Anthony Killick.
The success of the 2012 Bristol Radical Film Festival proved how the demand for socially and politically engaged film hasn’t dwindled, despite attempts by those in power to abstract politics away from the day-to-day lives of the public. The festival showed how film is one of the most powerful tools for education and consciousness raising. Combining screenings with events, talks, workshops and discussions over the course of one week, the main aim in 2012 was to contribute to the establishment of an alternative film network, one that sees film not only as an entertainment medium, but one that that has the ability to transform society through the act of exploring it.
After another year of privatisation of healthcare, education and public services in the UK, Bristol Radical Film Festival returned in 2013 to continue this remit. By pooling the collective knowledge and resources of students, university lecturers, activist groups and community projects, the festival expanded in length as well spatially, holding promotional nights at various venues throughout January and February. This culminated in a headline week of events, the climax of which was a weekend that included a workshop on the making of radical film followed by a session of radical shorts, which took place at Bristol’s non-profit cinema, The Cube.
From the end of January until the beginning of the headline week, promotional nights saw a diverse range of films, connecting seemingly disparate issues while showcasing a history of contemporary radical cinema. From Menelik Shabazz’s 1981 drama, Burning an Illusion, the first British film to feature a black female protagonist, to Australian Simon Cunich’s 2012 documentary, Growing Change, a film about independent food production in Venezuela, the festival gained momentum through navigating across various spaces of dissent. These included café basements, community centres, even the backroom of a local bowling alley, all of which became cinemas for an evening.
Bristol’s Southbank Centre hosted the first night of the headline week, which saw the British premier of Muchedumbre 30S (Rodolpho Munez, 2012), a fast-paced documentary about the attempted coup that took place in Ecuador in 2010. The film looks at how confusion and chaos are sown by the agents of dominant power to stifle democracy and social change. This theme proved to be recurrent, when on Tuesday the festival returned to women’s refuge, the One25 Project, a community based charity that provides support for sex workers in the city. A packed screening of The Shape of Water (Kum Kum Bhavani, 2006), a documentary on the innovative forms of protest practiced by women in Third World countries, led to a discussion on feminist resistance to globalisation.
Following Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud, which took place in December 2012, the festival’s Wednesday screening, held at the Easton Community Centre, provided a glimpse of the harrowing impact that military barbarism has on the Palestinian people. To Shoot an Elephant (Alberto Arce, Mohammad Rujailah, 2008), filmed during the 2008 “Operation Cast Lead” provided a context to one of the most heinous and ongoing injustices in modern history. On Thursday the Malcolm X Centre in St Paul’s hosted the screening of a series of films on the black civil rights movement, including Cuban Santiago Alvarez’s dynamic musical short, Now (1965), and Finally Got the News (Stewart Bird, 1970). Introduced by the head of the Lecturers Union and radical film writer, Eamonn Kelly, the latter film was made by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers inside and outside the auto factories of Detroit.
After a string of successful lead-up nights, the headline weekend opened at The Cube with a film exercise led by Al Cameron and Bridget Crone of the Arnolfini, one of Bristol’s most active cultural hubs. Screening a series of political artist films, blending the political and aesthetic avant-garde. A 2010 piece by the Otolith Group, Hydra Decapita, followed by Mathieu Abbonenc’s 9-minute film Vera Cruz, brought about a discussion on the search for new film languages, and proved a great way to kick off The Cube weekend. The headline film that evening was the Royal Television Society’s graduate documentary of the year, The Ballymurphy Massacre, introduced by the film’s editor, Jonny Lewis.
The weekend continued with a Saturday morning double screening on the situation in Greece. How much Further? (Matthias Wiessler, 2012) criticised EU laws on immigration and the global treatment of immigrants throughout history. Honing in on the policies of the Greek state, the film gave a voice to those who are forced to live in an increasingly hostile environment before veering towards the more specific focus taken up by radical newsreel organisation, Reel News, who gave the world premier of their brand new documentary Into the Fire (Reel News, 2013). Introduced by director and Reel News activist, Kate Mara, this documentary looks at the emergence of fascist organisation, Golden Dawn, and it’s ties to the Greek police force. The Q and A discussion highlighted a number of issues including the ability of fascism to exploit the misery inflicted by neo-liberal economic structures.
Resistance to these structures was the topic of the following film, The Globalisation Tapes (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2003), a documentary that exposes the role of militarism and repression in building the “global economy”. This was followed by a session dedicated to Platform Films, the longest running producers of radical feature documentary in Britain. Filmmaker Chris Reeves introduced their latest work Pulling Together (Chris Reeves, 2012) before taking part in a post-screening Q and A discussion. The next session featured another British premier, The Way To Be (Sree Krishnan, 2012), which had been sent to the festival from India, having been subtitled for the occasion. The film’s multi-temporal, multi-strand narrative and skillful navigation between documentary, fictional, theatre and animation forms made for an enthusiastic discussion among the audience, who compared it to the films of the preceding day. Saturday’s headliner, Big Boys Gone Bananas (Fredrik Gertten, 2012), showed the lengths to which multinational corporations will go to block films that expose malpractice.
Following a party on Saturday night in The Cube bar, Sunday began with a workshop on the making of radical film. This session was split into three sections. First to the floor was Lee Salter, writer of Secret City (Michael Chanan 2012) who spoke about the process of getting radical documentary “out there” into the public sphere, and how filmmakers can work to push radical politics into the filmic sphere. Anthony Killick of Dialectical Films followed up by focusing on the philosophy of radical filmmaking, and how his theoretical insights have influenced his editing processes in the making of short films. Finally, in a workshop dedicated to the combination of theory and practice, Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’ Neill gave a talk about the making of their upcoming film The Condition of the English Working Class based on Fredrick Engels’s book of the same name.
Having put a call out for radical shorts at the beginning of the year, the festival received an influx of films, eventually deciding on four, to be screened in the session following the workshop. The chosen films spanned a geographical spectrum from Brazil to Stoke-on-Trent, and the young filmmakers were invited to come and introduce their work before taking part in a Q and A discussion. George Allonby’s The Art of Squatting gave insight into an alternative housing culture, before Ash Morris’s Black and White provided an introduction into Britain’s class system, from an all too rare working class perspective. Anthony Killick’s A Three Fold Attack on Protest identified three areas in which the government is attacking civil liberties. The session came to a climax with Michael Seyfert’s Brazil is not Copacabana, a chaotic, surrealist take on poverty and resistance in Brazil.
These back-to-back sessions comprised a dearth of theoretical and practical knowledge, while exhibiting new and original work from all over the world. Having lost no momentum, the festival moved towards it’s last two sessions. Film lecturer, Humberto Perez-Blanco, gave an entertaining and informative introduction to Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story, which documents the events of May 1995, when 35 year old plumber, Shawn Nelson, stole a tank from the U.S National Guard and went on a rampage through suburbia. BRFF 2013 concluded with an investigation into the corruption and mismanagement of the Berlusconi government. Draquila: Italy Trembles (Sabina Guzzanti, 2010) highlighted the almost comedic lunacy of Berlusconi’s administration, and served as a great way to end the festival, considering his recent resurgence in Italian politics.
The Bristol Radical Film Festival continues to establish an alternative film network, both by drawing on and contributing to an international corpus of radical cinema. A young festival with ambitions to expand along diverse and creative avenues, BRFF will continue it’s cross-disciplinary approach to film, drawing together those involved in production, distribution and exhibition for the collective purpose of using this powerful medium as a tool to bring about a more just society.
Anthony Killick, MA student, Film and Television Studies, Bristol University.