News arrives of the death at age 84 of the American composer Eric Salzman, who appeared in my film ‘The Politics of Music’ (1972). My mind goes back not only to the filming but to the following summer when I paid my first visit to the USA and spent a few days with him at his home on Long Island – not one of those Gatsby mansions but a modest wooden house by the seashore which I think he said had originally belonged to his father. The enchantment of those few days began even before I got to the house, when I got off the train from New York at one of those American stations that isn’t a station but just a rural stop without a platform. Continue reading
A friend in Mexico asks me about the election. Can the left win? This is what I write back.
Gramsci’s famous dictum is very relevant: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Objectively it doesn’t look like Labour can actually win, but it does look increasingly likely that the Tories won’t come out of it nearly as well as it looked at the start, maybe enough that Mayhem will not be strengthened but weakened. Continue reading
The mainstream media seem to have already decided. The Tories can’t fail to win. Labour is going to be routed. Yet Mrs May’s opportunist election call is a signal of her weakness in the face of Brexit, belated recognition that she has no personal mandate for the task. So it’s the right thing to do but for all the wrong reasons. (See this lucid analysis by Anthony Barnett.) She wants a single-issue election about Brexit, in order, she says, to strengthen her hand vis-a-vis Europe – the question is, to do what? Does she even know? Her poker face gives nothing away but the hand she’s hiding is a real bummer. Is she panicking because, as Paul Mason puts it, ‘she has triggered article 50 with no plan, no agreed negotiating position and a deteriorating economy’? Continue reading
On Friday, here on the riverside at Putney, they started setting up the outside broadcast cameras for the Boat Race, the annual jamboree when Putney gets to be briefly seen on screens around the world. A strange object appeared looming up over my house.
A more interesting question to ask after his death is not what Fidel Castro was – a revolutionary hero? a tyrannical dictator? a beneficent dictator? – but who would now call themselves a Fidelista and what will become of Fidelismo? The Havana where I arrived the day before his burial at the other end of the island was certainly subdued, but how to interpret the silence that the TV news bulletins during the previous week had all remarked on? It wasn’t just that the authorities had banned music and alcohol during the mourning period. An old friend of my own age ruminated: ‘People were silent’, she said, ‘because they didn’t know what to say.’ Or as a new friend, an equally thoughtful young woman of 26 put it, ‘He already wasn’t there.’ Continue reading
No-one ever frightened the powers-that-be in Washington more than Fidel Castro. No-one ever challenged their hegemony more effectively, not just with his powerful rhetoric but above all in action, driving out a dictator and installing socialism ninety miles south of Florida. And no-one has ever been more vilified for doing so.
A revolution, he said, is not a bed of roses, and yes he made mistakes. Yes, the revolution he led dealt harshly with its enemies, but it was never Stalinist. It brought social justice, the best education and health systems in Latin America, the best example of international solidarity – above all for a country so small – and many other achievements, even though, yes, he sometimes misjudged economic reality.
His charisma was extraordinary and so was his intellect, and no-one was a more enthralling orator. I heard him speak twice. Once was a four-hour speech at a rally in the Plaza de la Revolución (I was grateful that as foreign guests we were given seats). The first half was about domestic affairs, and a lot of it passed me by, but I was riveted by the second half, the most penetrating analysis of international relations I had ever heard (or read). The second time was when he spoke – for only 45 minutes – one year at the closing ceremony of the Havana Film Festival, when Holly Aylett and myself were making a film about the festival, ‘Havana Report’, for Channel Four.
At the end of the festival, when we were getting clips from a number of films to include in ours, we had to grab what we wanted from the prize winners double quick, because he had asked to see them. He was also accused by his enemies of being a cultural tyrant, but when I was researching at the ICAIC for my book on Cuban cinema, I found no evidence of it. Has history absolved him? It already has, of course. But it isn’t over.
Some questions I’ve been asked about ‘Money Puzzles’, ahead of the first UK screenings in Crewe, London and Liverpool over the next few days.
What are the origins of ‘Money Puzzles’ and how do they fit in with your background as a documentarist?
‘Money Puzzles’ is a sequel to ‘Secret City’ (2012), which is about the City of London—the square mile that has been described as ‘a state within a state’. ‘Secret City’ was made in the wake of the Occupy movement, which concentrated attention on the City as the Vatican of financial capitalism. ‘Money Puzzles’ reverses the perspective and looks outward, beyond the citadel of finance, towards the global system of financial capital of which the City is one of the principal agents.
For over fifty years, radical and independent filmmakers across Latin America have been making films targeting the history of Latin America’s domination by imperialist powers and above all, in the twentieth century, the USA, whose methods have been economic exploitation, mass cultural colonisation and direct or indirect military intervention. In Mexico, where the threat represented by Donald Trump is particularly keenly felt, a group of filmmakers has come together under the banner Stop ¡Basta! to campaign for Latinos north of the border to use their vote to defend their own interests, which means their past, their traditions, their history, their people. Their instrument of choice is their own films, in the form of scenes selected to ‘suggest the nightmare that our world can become if ruled by the worst traditions in the history of the United States’. Continue reading
Almost ready. About to get delivery of the first DVD preview copies of ‘Money Puzzles’, and then I’m off to Lisbon, where its first screening takes place at Doclisboa on 29th October.
Over the eighteen months I’ve been making ‘Money Puzzles’, a good deal has happened in the world and not much has changed, and where it has, matters are getting worse. Continue reading
Towards the end of Ken Loach’s film In conversation with Jeremy Corbyn, there’s a moment when Corbyn reflects on what he’s been hearing from the group of people he’s been listening to. It’s been a very valuable discussion, he remarks, far better than any focus group, and a model of the kind of debate the Labour Party needs to develop further. But you don’t have to take his word for it. Loach devotes much less time in this film to Corbyn speaking than those in front of him – a veritable cross-section of the ordinary public (which is very different from the amorphous ‘public’ which figures in official media discourse). Continue reading