At a recent Show Room event, there was a fascinating screening and discussion about community film making in 1970s London. This was chaired by LUX writer in residence Ed Webb-Ingall as part of his two year Communal Knowledge Project. One of the films screened was Starting To Happen made by Liberation Films in 1971. It showed how a film action group ran a series of workshops with local residents of Balham in South London. Teaching them how to use video and sound equipment in order to communicate their concerns about changes taking place in society: the decline of the urban environment; the lack of play spaces and community facilities for evolving multi-cultural communities. This all culminated in the residents campaign for a zebra crossing in a location where several children had been run over. At the end of this film within a film, the editorial view was controlled by the professional film makers. They were the ones documenting the residents sit-down-in-the-road campaign. While the overall project might have chaotic elements that illustrate the difficulty of allowing for collective expression in a highly specialised medium, there were compelling scenes showing how residents used the video process and were able to reflect on this. The potential for allowing voices that are not usually heard.
In the modern era, we have the world wide web and the apparent ease of digital film making. These provide a new found reservoir for community expression and solidarity. However the challenge still remains of how to weld together polemical intent and film in a powerful and original manner. To understand and artistically render. To communicate and be heard. To effect change.
My current art residency at Lancaster West estate fits within this critical discourse. I have been contracted by the TMO to make a film portrait about local residents: what it means to live on the Royal Borough's largest estate and views about changes taking place in the area. This has been complicated by a recent stand off between residents and TMO over the regeneration of the Grenfell tower block. Lately there have been productive meetings and dialogue. This is documented from the residents perspective on the Grenfell Action Blog. I have been filming resident meetings with their local councillor and MP. Edited films of these meetings have been shown to both the community and TMO. This has facilitated discussion and allowed self-reflection. They have also demonstrated genuine concerns from a wide range of resident and how certain individuals in the community have stepped forward as representatives. So far I have not involved residents in the actual film making process. These filmed sequences will form an element of the wider film being made. I am currently undertaking detailed audio interviews with a range of people connected to the past and present of the estate: architects, residents and TMO staff. I will then invite residents to pick up a camera and film sequences to illustrate their perspective. This is an exciting development of my collaborative approach to film making.
In marked contrast to these strategies for film making, I've just visited the Ben Rivers multi-film installation at the former BBC TV centre. This is sited just across the West Cross Route from where I'm based at Lancaster West. I often spy on the centre as it undergoes redevelopment from the 17th floor of Grenfell Tower.
While the film fragments on display here are impressive, perhaps the real star is the location. The labyrinthine former BBC drama department with machines that have Tardis-like knobs and dials, scenic painting rooms and a plethora of signs: this department has moved, or that one has closed down; please contact Facilities Management.
Artists need these spaces to project their boundless imagination. The film-art installations strike a chord with this lost and soon to be demolished space. One of the films screened has a Moroccan Griot regaling us with a comic tale about a beheaded Imam. As you ponder this and move over to another cinematic offering, you might detect a faint echo. It is Auntie Beeb. Yes. She is gently whispering something about Whitehall corridors of power and the need to forge a new identity.
One of the Balham residents in the 1971 film made the following statement with words and meaning to this effect: if we are able to film and interview people locally and we are able to do this ourself; we will get a different and possibly more meaningful response than if they were being interviewed by someone from the BBC. We could debate the veracity of this statement while registering the need for both professional and non-professional approaches in art. This is a world where community, media, art and institutions are not in sync. We are hearing sounds and sound bites, that do not necessarily resonate with with what we are seeing and vice versa.