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Bristol Radical Film Festival 2015

Thursday 15 October 2015, by Abla Kandalaft

The Bristol Radical Film Festival returns for its fourth edition. It has partnered up with the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first ever Festival of Independent British Cinema.

The festival, a milestone in the history of alternative and radical cinema, screened political and experimental films, showcasing community engagement, social and political concerns and new aesthetic approaches of the time.

Now, more than four decades down the line, the Radical Film Festival revisits some of the films from the 1975 programme, screened alongside more current works in the original venue. BRFF 2015 was a chance to watch what are now rarely screened classics, such as the opening film The Amazing Equal Pay Show by the London Women’s Film Group-a surprisingly entertaining and bristling film, using a chaotic mix of street performance, theatre, music and burlesque to explore issues surrounding equal pay.

During the following couple of days, we watched Starting to Happen, a film made by community film group Liberation Films to document their work with South London residents, helping them use video equipment and make short campaign films about issues affecting their local area;
Cinema Action’s The Miners’ Film, which documents the miners strikes of 1973-74, which brought down the Tory government; David Koff’s Blacks Britannica, an uncompromising and powerful depiction of the racism faced by black people in the UK, within the context of British post-war history and through the prism of class struggle and the drive for profit at the heart of Britain’s colonialist adventures. We were also treated to a series of Derek Jarman’s shorts, followed by a Q&A with his producer James MacKay and Laura Mulvey’s Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons, followed by a discussion between Mulvey and Dr Patti Gaal-Holmes.

The relevance and impact of these films was highlighted by the more contemporary works and the Q&A sessions with the likes of MacKay, Mulvey, Blacks Britannica producer Margaret Henry and Steve Sprung from Cinema Action. In fact, one could not fail to draw parallels with the issues tackled in the 1975 screenings-equal pay, community cohesion, racism, scapegoating of immigrants. Although it was dispiriting to take stock of how little certain things had changed, it does seem that the current rise in activism and engagement in politics, perhaps at a more local level, somewhat echoes the effervescence of that period
Discussion and buzz around the festival was clearly buoyed by the recent Labour leadership elections and the Q&As gave audience and speakers a platform to recontextualise the films and talk about lessons to be learnt from that period, which did usher in Thatcherism and all that it entailed.

The festival showcased current radical trends filmmaking, that attest to the ongoing importance of film techniques and uses, many pioneered in the 1970s, in both activism and independent and alternative cinema. Sean Dey from video collective Reel News, introduced two short campaign films-one about blacklisted construction workers, the other about the fight of University of London cleaners for decent pay and working conditions-made specifically to expose, denounce and circulate, obtain redress or compensation.

This is Mydylarama’s first time at the Bristol Radical Film Festival and we are very much looking forward to attending again next year. Credit to the four-strong team who coordinated, organised, booked and programmed, all in their spare time and with a limited budget. They kept it small-scale (3 days), but the programming was intelligent, relevant and coherent and the Q&As and discussions were engaging and provided a real and dynamic platform for an exchange of ideas between speakers and audience.

Following are some audio highlights-fuller versions of some of the discussions will be available on our partner website Inform My Opinion.

Sean Dey talks about the short campaign films made with Reel News. The first one exposed the treatment meted out to construction workers that had been blacklisted for simply asking for adequate health and safety measures to be implemented. As a result, they faced unemployment and bullying. More info on this blog.

The second one highlighted the plight of contract workers, namely cleaners, working at the University of London who fought for adequate sick pay, holidays and pensions on a par with university staff, what they called the 3Cosas campaign. More info here.

More about Reel News here.

Next is Margaret Henry talking about how Blacks Britannica was received. The film was initially commissioned by the Boston public television station WGBH....

Follow the Bristol Radical Film Festival on twitter @BristolFilmFest

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