Fidel Castro 1926-2016

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.

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Questions about ‘Money Puzzles

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.

lucyWhat 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.

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Stop ¡Basta!

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

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‘Money Puzzles’ almost ready

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

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How to film politics

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

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The Music of Politics

It was an unexpectedly amusing moment when Cameron was caught ‘humming’ to himself as he went back into No.10 after announcing his handover to Theresa May, unaware that his microphone was still open.

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Even more entertaining was the rapid reaction of a bunch of savvy composers, some of them in response to a challenge by ClassicFMContinue reading

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Brexit, Labour & the Media

What the anti-Corbynistas are doing is unconscionable. In pursuing their cackhanded coup, they are abdicating from intervention in the process of negotiating Brexit. They wouldn’t admit it, likely not even to themselves, but this might even be one reason why they’re doing it, because of course they too have no plan for how to proceed, any more than the Tories (while Owen Smith even seems to think he can successfully challenge Corbyn by proposing a second referendum). They’re like animals caught in headlights, not knowing which way to turn, while now installed behind the wheel is Theresa May and her equally clueless crew, driving in the dark with no road map and their GPS out of range, sniffing their way to the unshackled neoliberal dreamland of neo-Thatcherism.

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A chance encounter with Kiarostami

 

In May 2005 I bought a new pocket-sized video camera. The next day I took it with me to try out when I went to visit Kiarostami’s installation, ‘Forest Without Leaves’, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and as I was filming, Kiarostami himself appeared. (After I shut off the camera, another figure appeared – Ken Loach. We chatted and then went all together to look at Kiarostami’s photos in another room.)  I didn’t do anything with the footage, since after all, it was only a test, and I hadn’t yet mastered the camera, but I offer it here in modest homage to this most remarkable of filmmakers. The rare kind who keeps you believing in the power of cinema to refashion our perception of the world that the other kind of cinema blocks out.

 

 

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Referendum Blues

Like many other socialists, I have had strong doubts about whether the EU is capable of the reforms that would be needed to shake off the shackles of its disastrous neoliberal policies, especially after two visits to Greece last year to film episodes for our new documentary about money and debt, Money Puzzles. I could not imagine myself voting to leave, despite a number calls from the left to do so which I found pretty persuasive, partly because I refused to align my vote with the utterly disreputable politicians calling for exit, and partly because all my instincts, my sense of cultural identity, belong with a European imaginary. I have to say ‘imaginary’ because actually existing Europe is as far from its democratic ideals as actually existing socialism in Eastern Europe was from real communism. Continue reading

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The cognitive map of a refugee

Eleonas bis

At the bottom of this long, pitted and dusty road in Athens is the Eleonas refugee camp, located in a run down industrial estate. This is my only picture because we weren’t allowed to film or take photos inside the camp, which currently houses around 1600 refugees from many different countries, but mainly Afghanistan and Syria. More are expected.

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