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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Julio García Espinosa 1926-2016


Very sad to hear of the death in Havana of the pioneer of Cuban cinema, Julio García Espinosa, at the age of 89. One of the founding members of Cuba’s film institute, the ICAIC, of which he was President from 1983-91, he was the author of a key manifesto, ‘For an imperfect cinema’ (1969), where he argued that the imperfections of a low budget cinema of urgency, which  sought to create a dialogue with its audience, were preferable to the sheen of high production values which merely reflected the audience back to itself.

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Filming Boulez in 1972

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Photo: Noel Chanan

IT was the mid-1960s, I was in my late teens, I was already becoming familiar with post-war avant-garde music, yet the first time I heard Pli selon Pli by Pierre Boulez, who has died at the age of 90, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Something in the back of my head, however, insisted that the problem was mine, not the music’s, driving me back to hear it a second time when he conducted it in London again a few months later. This time I was rewarded by a musical experience as scintillating, diaphanous and transcendent as I’ve ever had. When I talked to him about his music a year or two later, I immediately connected the experience with his description of music as ‘controlled hysteria’, an effect which is highly calculated but produces in the listener a peculiar kind of euphoria, a free-floating intensity that can also be found in certain old time composers like Perotin or Tallis, even Beethoven, at least in the readings of certain symphonies by certain conductors–try listening to Boulez’s recording of Beethoven’s Fifth. Continue reading

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Neighbourhood Solidarity in Madrid

As elections approach in Spain, the latest episode from our forthcoming documentary Money Puzzles.

In Greece last July our camera witnessed the tangible forms of solidarity elicited by the extreme austerity imposed by the unrelenting finance ministers in Brussels. ‘Solidarity For All’ is the name of an association of more than 350 solidarity groups across the country helping to feed people, provide health care, and other kinds of services they can no longer afford and whose public provision has been severely cut by austerity measures. But this is not just a stopgap. In Mandra, on the outskirts of Athens, where we filmed a food distribution centre, a local organiser explained that they’ve developed relations with local producers that cut out the middleman, and this was the kernel of a different way of organising society. Something similar is true of the widespread networks of local solidarity groups across Spain, each concerned with particular issues like protection from eviction or running food banks, but activists are never far away from the idea of alternative forms of social organisation, according to different values where money no longer determines what ‘value’ means, and people escape the atomisation and social isolation, with its dire psychological effects, that capitalism in crisis imposes to an ever more intense degree.

One of the reasons for the Eurogroup’s intransigence was the fear that what started in Greece might spread elsewhere in Europe. Syriza seemed to offer the hope that it was possible to overcome the fractured state of the left to create a irresistible new political force. The result of the Referendum last July, when over 61% of voters said No to the bailout conditions, seemed to confirm it. If the effort immediately collapsed when Alexis Tsipras lost his nerve and capitulated to Europe (a moment we documented in Greece, Europe, Undemocracy), then the latest developments in Portugal (Portugal gets new leftwing PM after election winner only lasted 11 days) suggest this dream has not been killed off, even if it implies compromises. In Spain–where I went to film at the beginning of November–there are elections coming up on December 20, but here the left is still fractured, and electoral politics are complicated by the emergence of a populist right wing party, Ciudadanos, in response to the sudden rise of Podemos on the left, who also face a challenge from other left groupings like Izquierda Unida. The primary political issue, however, during my fortnight in Barcelona and Madrid, was Cataluña’s bid for independence, with its unresolvable political and economic conundrums, rather different from the issues in the Scottish case. The issue plays into the hands of the constitutionalist majority, and no-one I spoke to thought that the left could win the elections.

The elections come up obliquely in this short video, Neighbourhood Solidarity in Madrid, filmed in Puerta Del Angel, just across the river from the city centre, with the local branch of the RSP (Red de Solidaridad Popular, or Network of Popular Solidarity) covering the districts of Latina and Carabanchel. The group’s primary activity is a food bank, but they also support people–that’s to say, each other–in other ways, and there are volunteers who provide professional advice or give classes in maths or languages.

The RSP Latina Carabanchel exemplifies the strength of the movement against austerity known as 15M, from the date of the mass demonstrations of the indignados in cities across the country (15 May 2011). The movement has generated a wide set of local initiatives attacking the effects of austerity politics in parallel fields, loose federations of autonomous local groups under umbrella names that indicate their focus. Thanks to a small network of friends active in one or other of these groups, I was able to connect with people working on housing, food provision, and healthcare in Barcelona and Madrid. These sequences will be included in the completed film. My thanks especially to Ricard Mamblona in Barcelona, and Concha Mateos in Madrid, who were both extremely generous with their time and attention as production managers, and to the camera people they found to work with me, Oriol Bosch Castellet and Raquel Salillas.


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