Friday, 30 September 2011

"Acting on behalf of ": the Arts of Compromised Documentary



In a recent post I noted that the earliest documentaries had a rehearsed quality:

"... when Flaherty made his legendary film Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic (1922) he captured the hardship of the life there but presented it as though there had been no contact with Europeans, guns and gramophones; but these were 'primitives' who helped in the filming! It's a wonderful film and constructs a wonderful fiction out of community life."

Flaherty's work excites both admiration and indignation for its recreation and reconstruction of a lost world. Part of is success is its artistry - its artifice (a kind if cunning); its natural nobility that turns out to be a mode of artificiality.

Today we are perhaps more conscious than ever of the possibility of fakery and simulation. As inexpensive digital technology progresses it becomes more difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction; simultaneously we suspect that there might be a difference from the 'reality' that is produced for us. We are all digital reality sceptics and believers now.

In community media and we aim to create a situation in which real historical persons can become effective social actors and communicators. What happens when we fall short of that objective? What happens when we become spokeswomen and men rather than letting folk speak for themselves?

Let me provide a parody which nonetheless has elements of truth in it. We all know what failure looks like!

We often find that there is a half-hearted effort to wrestle with stereotypes and cliches. Negatives are never a good starting point and are a poor way of finding a point of entry to the life blood of the community and the authentic pulse of individuals. The actors want to rescue the ordinary folk from their cliches.


So, what happens when artist-led groups and companies move toward acting on behalf of the communities that they seek or claim to emancipate?

They start, perhaps, with high hopes but then find that their living subjects don't match up to the standards of theatre-trained professionals.

Ordinary folk sense the gap and stop coming to workshops. They start to feel alienated. They start to ask questions about funding and artist rates of pay. They are not impressed with the answers. They lose faith in the potential impact of their work.

There is a reliance on a fixed repertoire of gestures and a deadening conventionality sets in. Peter Brook and many others have shown how deadening theatre can be. I explored the notion of dead film and dead theatre in an earlier blog. Please feel free to add your comments. I'm also a big admirer of the work of Augusto boal, and would merely note his rallying cry in the Preface to the Second Edition of  Games for Actors and Non-Actors "To see people without captions!" (5) and his statement that

"Theatre of the Oppressed was created to serve people - rather than people being there to serve Theatre of the Oppressed." (9)

In my view, ordinary folk - the oppressed majority - already spend most of their time acting and performing roles for other people. They constantly rehearse someone else's script, doled out by an unequal society that never sees them as more than expendable extras.

Too often we find that there is an attempt to dress the set rather than work with what is there already. Experiences become staged to fit the aims of the producer/director who really knows what will work best with audiences and what will satisfy commissioners and meet their expectations.

Mutual mistrust pervades the situation as actors doubt the competence of their subjects and the subjects feel that they are being ventriloquized by secret agendas.

Masquerade replaces social action. It's fun dressing up but nothing changes other than the depth of the hangover.


Real people then become little more than exploited research fodder to feed the social action research, or to meet the need to demonstrate creative qualitative evaluations. It's a a hollow form of engagement and damages genuine participation and emancipation.


The historical subject becomes little more than enthnographic victim in a new mode of salvage ethnography.

Real people are co-opted to support a management spectacle. Despite the apparent warm and feeling in the presentation, ordinary people morph into exotic creatures. Social action is replaced by still life and deadening portraiture.

Patronage simply creates a monstrous feel-good spectacle.

In the long run myth making is very destructive. Idealizing the poor can be just as damaging as satirizing them.

From the artist side we have the danger of fiction, theatre, and lying.

But from the ethnographic and anthropological angle we run the risk of neutral narration that masks bias; the promise of a transparent social scientific reality that it cannot perform. Both approaches run risks, and in my parody, the situation starts to look bleak.

Perhaps we need to re-think what we mean by 'compromised'. In one sense we have the notion of failure. A compromised situation is one which is ethically tainted or professionally tarnished. But perhaps we need to think of 'compromised' as the beginning of a negotiation, something multi-voiced. Compromised as a conversation, a dialogue, and a process, rather than a finished product and a pre-packaged community. But that would mean rethinking models of production and consumption. It's a big task.

To return to the Eskimo, it was John Grierson, a Flaherty admirer who noted the dangers of romanticism in his approach to a noble but lost world:

"Consider the problem of the Eskimo ... His clothes and blankets most often come from Manchester, supplied by a department store in Winnepeg ... They listen to fur prices over the radio, and are subjected to fast operations of commercial opportunists flying in from New York."

Is there an authentic true self, an organic living community, or simply a process of myth-making that commercial cinema satisfies? Our unstable transnational, globalized world clearly presents issues and opportunities for artists and ethnographers, for social actors and for political emancipation.

I'm currently writing a new essay on how to save people from artists and ethnographers, and wondering if there are components of 'acting on behalf of' - as agents of change - that we might choose to rescue. I'll be trying to see the other side of the views expressed above.

Drop me a line if you have any ideas on that ...

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Showcasing a successful Community Film Unit and Social Enterprise


Advocates of social film, participatory video and community cinema will be delighted to hear that Surrey County Council in the UK has successfully launched a highly successful Community Film Unit which now operates as a Social Enterprise.

Is it too much to hope that every county in the UK will now follow their example? Long live Community-led D.I.Y films!

Or D.I.T.  "Do it Together"?

To add to their success they have recently been awarded a Social Enterprise Mark.

Their website reports:


"The Community Film Unit is a registered social enterprise run by a team of skilled graduates who work to empower communities through film and an expanding range of media tools.

The Community Film Unit have three social objectives, which are achieved through film, graphic design, photography, web design and music.

  • To raise awareness of local issues

  • To document and promote change within communities

  • To create educational and developmental opportunities for young people

  • A combination of all the media tools available lends itself to the creation of a unique and diverse resource. We also offer a range of training, placement and shadowing opportunities for young people which has proved to be an influential, engaging and excellent developmental experience where all involved learn new skills and are exposed to exciting new experiences."

    You can read more about their success here, or read the Press Release below:

    "A film unit Surrey County Council launched has been handed a national award recognising its status as a social enterprise working for the benefit of local communities.

    The Community Film Unit, set up just over a year ago through the county council's youth development service, has been awarded a Social Enterprise Mark.

    It is believed to be only the second film social enterprise in the country to get the award. The mark confirms the unit is an organisation that reinvests its profits into activities that benefit local neighbourhoods.

    Films of a youth justice conference, an assembly for children and young people and the High Ashurst Outdoor Education Centre near Dorking were made with the council.

    Since striking out on its own, the unit has produced a string of films for the likes of Surbiton Hockey Club and Pupil Voice and Participation England, the national organisation for school councils. It also made a film for this year's Surrey Youth Games.

    Kay Hammond, Surrey County Council's Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said:

    "It's fantastic news that this home-grown social enterprise has been given this prestigious national recognition. I’m delighted for the people involved with the film unit and I look forward to it going from strength to strength."

    Matthew Joblin, the unit's project co-ordinator, said:

    "We’re very proud to have achieved the Mark and the Community Film Unit will continue to support and raise awareness of the social enterprise revolution. We are tremendously grateful for the continued support from Surrey's youth development service."

    Thursday, 29 September 2011

    Media, Science, Development: The Soul Beat Extra

    For people using science and media for social change... A Newsletter from the Soul Beat Team ...

    This is the first issue of our special newsletter on Science and Media in Africa. It is intended primarily for journalists, editors, and media institutions and seeks to increase and improve science reporting in Africa. It may also be of interest to anyone interested in science communication and the role of science education in development in Africa.

    The newsletter contains programme experiences, research reports, resource materials, and support opportunities recently placed on the Soul Beat Africa website and within our newly launched themesite on Science and Media. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

    If you know someone who would be interested in receiving this free e-publication, please forward this edition to them. They can "subscribe" by subscribing to The Soul Beat (through the registration process) and indicate an interest in science and media. See http://www.comminit.com/africa/user/register

    ===

    PLEASE SEND US YOUR SCIENCE AND MEDIA RELATED INFORMATION

    If you would like your organisation's communication work, research and resource documents, and events and trainings to be featured on the Soul Beat Africa website and in The Soul Beat newsletters, please send information to soulbeat@comminit.com

    ===

    SCIENCE AND MEDIA THEMESITE AND FORUM

    For more information on Science and Media go to the Soul Beat Africa Science and Media website here
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/category/sites/africa/science-and-media

    Please also join our networking space here http://networks.comminit.com/scimedianet/
    This is a space where science journalists and people working in the field can share information and collaborate.


    1. The African Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) - Africa

    This is a pan-African network of journalists who cover science and allied disciplines such as technology, innovation, agriculture, health and climate change from the perspective of research and development. AFSJ's stated mandate is to improve the quality of science journalism in Africa through capacity building, mainstreaming African science journalists within the global context, and creating interactive platforms between African science journalists and scientists.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/content/african-federation-science-journalists


    2. Africa Science Technology & Innovation News – AfricaSTI.com - Africa

    This is a platform for the dissemination of news, features, editorials, and significant developments in science, health, agriculture, and climate change on, and about Africa. Operated by a collection of African science journalists, the project is a news medium that aims to give a voice to scientists on the continent and in the Diaspora. The AfricaSTI team comprises journalists practising in over 20 African countries who have been exposed to global best practices in ethics, methodology, and style of science reporting.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/content/africa-science-technology-innovation-news


    3. Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA) - Ethiopia

    Established in 2006, the EEJA is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation founded by senior media professionals interested in raising awareness about sustainable development in Ethiopia. EEJA works to build the awareness and capacity of journalists to report on environmental issues, so that the media can play its role in informing and raising awareness among the public.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/content/ethiopian-environment-journalists-association


    4. Science Journalism COOPeration (SjCOOP) - Africa and Middle East

    SjCOOP, initiated by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), offers training in science and technology journalism focusing on journalists in Africa and the Middle East. Rolled out on two three-year phases, the goal of the programme is to create a bridge between scientists and the public; promote the role of science journalists as key players in democracy and development; and improve the quality of reporting to make science exciting to readers.
    http://www.comminit.com/node/science-media/9280814


    5. Rwanda Association of Science Journalists (RASJ) - Rwanda

    Founded in 2007, RASJ is a professional national association devoted to creating and enhancing the capacity of Rwandan journalists to report on existing and emerging science and technology challenges. The Association has a number of key objectives, including mainstreaming science journalism in Rwanda; disseminating relevant information on science issues and their impact in Rwanda and Africa; improving understanding of scientific research; influencing decision making processes; and clarifying linkages between scientific research, policy decision making, and the implications of these for human well-being. http://www.comminit.com/science-media/content/rwanda-association-science-journalists


    6. A Guide to Peer-to-Peer Mentorship in Science Journalism

    From the World Federation of Science Journalists (WSFJ), this science journalism mentoring guide covers aspects of mentoring, from the selection of mentees and mentors, to their evaluation. It includes guidance on the training of the mentors and etiquette for first encounter between mentor and mentee in the context of science journalism training.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/content/guide-peer-peer-mentorship-science-journalism

    ===

    UNESCO Quarterly Natural Sciences Newsletter

    This quarterly newsletter provides information on the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the field of natural sciences.


    7. Environmental Reporting for African Journalists: 
    A Handbook of Key Environmental Issues and Concepts

    Published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), this handbook was produced to provide readily available access to key environmental issues and concepts to journalists to help improve environmental reporting.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/node/322551


    8. A Commitment to Act Now: Broadcast Media and Climate Change

    This brochure summarises the 7 sessions of an international conference held in Paris, France, in 2009: Broadcast Media and Climate Change: A Public Service Remit. Organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the conference led international and regional broadcasting unions to vow to increase cooperation in order to give media exposure to climate change.

    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/node/308376


    9. Communications Handbook for Clinical Trials: Strategies, Tips, and Tools to Manage Controversy, Convey Your Message, and Disseminate Results

    This handbook is written to provide practical guidance to clinical trial staff and research partners on how to anticipate and respond to the communications challenges posed by the conduct of clinical research. Using context-specific case studies and insights culled from actual communications experience in clinical trials from around the world, this resource covers communication planning, activities, and strategies involved in the implementation of a clinical trial.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/node/323154


    10. Telling the HIV Story: A Practical Manual on HIV Prevention for Zimbabwean Print and Broadcast Journalists

    Published by Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) and supported by the Global Fund, National AIDS Council, and Population Services International, this manual was developed to enhance reporting on HIV by offering a practical training curriculum to increase the knowledge and skills of media professionals in reporting on HIV and AIDS related issues. The guide is intended for print and broadcast journalists, media owners and practitioners, editors, non-governmental organisation information officers, and students.
    http://www.comminit.com/science-media/node/315879

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011

    Ten Demons of Domination


    A short blog in which I list my Ten Demons of Domination

    1. Specialization. We are alienated from ourselves and our world by our confinement in restricted interest groups and narrow training. We are alienated in our work by being cogs in a fatal machinery of disempowerment. We build a house with one window and place bars across it. The notion of a survey, panorama and global perspective cause fear and anxiety. We doubt our capacity to understand the world and fall back into the safety of the prison house of self and narrow career paths.
    1. Age Discrimination works in many ways across contemporary society. In cases of superior seniority the older members oppress the younger. But in our highly stratified societies the younger also exclude the older. Our fashion and beauty industries promote a divided society where youth becomes the premium form of commodification.
    1. Top-down organization of society. Despite all the rhetoric of equality of opportunity (and the absence of an equalities discourse) we live in an absolutely stratified society. Inequality begins at birth and is a major determinant of stress, distress, health, happiness and (poor) life expectancy.
    1. A society that operated in a top-down fashion and which is specialized and discriminatory is also prone to Stratification in terms of qualifications, power and influence. A major gap, for instance, has opened up between the half of the population that attends University, and the other half which does not.
    1. Secrecy inhibits open conversations that could regenerate societies. Both government and corporations are prone to the creation of secret worlds.
    1. At the same time governments and corporations proclaim the right to increasing their levels of invasive Surveillance and information gathering.
    1. Terministic Screens prevent us from using language to see the world for what it really is. The rhetorical strategies of political correctness and propaganda hinder the possibility of thoughtful communication informed by feeling and emotion.
    1. Abuse. A big category of demonology in which I include a wide range of behaviours that undermine the right to free individuation; the invasion of personal space and the destruction of innocence. Bullying, Control and manipulation support the system of abuse.
    1. Celebrity idealization. Again supported by commercial and corporate interests the making of false icons destroys freedom and responsibility. It promotes vacuous and anti-communitarian life goals.  Its toxic side effects are conspicuous consumption, envy and greed.
    2. Discrimination helps to support all the partitions and divisions of a hostile society at war with itself. Discrimination is supported by a constant stream of scapegoating strategies across our media.

    Friday, 9 September 2011

    Shooting Romance, Shooting Poetry



    Does documentary have to be gritty, harsh and real?

    Is there a space for romance and poetry in community film productions?

    Writing on Documentary and Non Fiction Films in Pakistan, Sarwar Mushtaq has asserted that

    Internationally, non fiction has already made its place in the mainstream marketplace, and is slowly occupying greater space. In Pakistan, we are catching up, getting both inspiration and encouragement from the global film landscape. Of course it helps that we are also finally moving away from the classic image of the Pakistani documentary as the visual of a man and his ox ploughing the field while a flute from PIA inflight music plays in the background.

    The last point is an important one for it points to the danger of turning to romance and the picturesque as a way of portraying one's land and one's people. It involves a beautification and hollow myth-making that builds frames within frames of unreality. There is an ox. There is a plough. But that is not the only truth about life in contemporary Pakistan. It's also the familiar problem of wanting to be a non-tourist tourist. You might be a superior, perhaps relatively more sustainable tourist, but you're still the outsider breaking in; and you're not the first. Your presence inescapably makes a difference. The Observer shifts /changes /affects the structure of the observed

    Now perhaps you will say that I'm sounding like a sour old anti-romantic. Not at all. There is a place for the representation of the nobility of ordinary folk; for their suffering, their poverty and their struggles; and there is space for the splendour and sublimity of landscapes no matter how far they are threatened by unnatural disasters and economic exploitation.

    When I visited Nepal in 2007 I was struck by the outstanding beauty of the country. When I showed my guides and porters some of my film footage and photographs from the first week of the mountain trek they were struck by the technology of the camcorder but surprized also that I had not screened out a motorbike here and an electricity pylon there. For me Nepal was a real nation, and one in transition, like it or not.

    In old-fashioned development and charity circles you sponsor a sack of rice and a goat, rather than a satellite TV, mobile phone, laptop, or DVD player. The poor, on this view, do not want what we want. Their desire for material advantage must be illusory. We have tried it. It does not work. Our prosperity makes us poor. Therefore, the undeveloped are rich in their poverty. They do not yet know it. Conservation always runs the risk of becoming the protection of an idealized version of a lost utopia. Our development and charitable activities are constantly prone to fantasy and misguided projection. Secretly we want the poor to stay where they are: picturesque in their poverty.

    Our frames of reference are limited and exclusionary, and we screen out unsavoury realities. In the films we make, from that position, our screen becomes a film - a foggy veil of perception. It's a opportunity for hollow romance.

    You may recall that when Flaherty made his legendary film Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic (1922) he captured the hardship of the life there but presented it as though there had been no contact with Europeans, guns and gramophones; but these were 'primitives' who helped in the filming! It's a wonderful film and constructs a wonderful fiction out of community life.

    Visiting a forest tribe in a sustainable eco-village in Laos, again in 2007, we were shocked at times by the burnt landscapes, deforestation and road construction. When we spoke to the village chief he had one request for us to send to his government - to make the road come through his village so that they could enjoy wealth, prosperity and progress. No charm for him in crushing rural poverty or a poetics of romanticized noble savages! Typically the capitalist "West" - the global "North" - want an assurance of progressive technology that they deny to other nations and peoples. Better that the poor and underdeveloped remain in their fossilized culture - an anthropological museum within a museum of primitive and marvelous romance.

    In the cinéma vérité tradition we avoid such staging of anthropological museums, of course, but my point is that we are still prone to outmoded forms of romance and a poetry of cliche.  And let's not forget that in mortal hands the cinéma vérité slavery is often a prison-house of unimaginative flatness and tedium.

    Community film making can be time consuming because the participants and/or the film production crew fall back on the easy business of fulfilling expectations rather than interrogating them. In my view, Quality depends precisely on finding the revelatory moments lurking just beneath the surface. Quality is a truth to community and when you come across it you'll have your poetry, and your romance, and a profound sensitivity to the real.

    Thursday, 8 September 2011

    CCTV and Emancipatory Creativity - 11 Angles


    I’m trying to reclaim the notorious surveillance culture of CCTV.

    I'm not thinking spy-camera in the classroom.

    Here are some of my attempts to re-frame the use of film making in creative learning environments such as schools and communities:

    • Collaborative Community TV
    • Creative Circuits Transmit Values
    • Community Creates Total Value
    • Camcorders Communicate Training Virus
    • Class Contests Totalitarian Values
    I'm sure you can create your own re-workings?

    With a cheap camcorder that costs less than $150, and access to a laptop and free software it’s possible to replace dreary Powerpoints with live action visualization, with dynamic group creativity and critical reflection.

    In schools, use of film will

    1. refresh the creaking machinery school councils;
    1. rejuvenate and revolutionize magazines and text-based documents;
    1. transform and supplement field trips and special projects;
    1. enliven the prospectus when the story of the school is told from a child’s perspective;
    1. promote healthy and active group work because film is necessarily labour intensive, inclusive and collaborative;
    1. enable teaching and learning of a wide range of employer-relevant skills;
    1. deliver digital inclusion and emancipatory communication;
    1. promote originality and creative skills by thinking outside the frame
    1. shift perspectives from local to global with online discussion and dissemination;
    1. facilitate more structured thinking and planning by exercising skills in scripting, storyboarding, and linear editing;
    1. put children at the centre of learning as directors and producers of creative projects
    Are you ready for CCTV ?

    Is this the future ?   -  - -


    Kindle, ebooks and the Future of Reading



    Kindle and ebooks present a variety of new opportunities for reading and writing that the traditional forms could not and will not offer. Digital 'books' are more than just another version of our familiar and much loved print commodity and objet d'art.

    First, we will see the development of enhanced reading, in which the text is not merely supplemented by, but integrated with other multi-media. If I am reading an ebook on the History of Rap, one click will allow me to place the examples featured in the book. Similarly colour illustration and video clips also become an affordable option for content, citation, and diversity of approach.

    Second, improved opportunities for annotation are attractive for the many non-fiction readers who are studying or researching. Again, the transition is toward a more active reading process. Of course I can still underline and comment in the margins of my paper copy, but the ease of use for multi-coloured highlighting, commenting, searching certainly facilitates the usability of the text. Add to that the possibility of communal annotation and we have further avenues for creative collaboration which would be a crime against the crisp clarity of the shared library book.

    My third observation is that we will see publishers offering discounts to groups of readers who have formed into clubs because they enjoy the shared experience of reading, comment and criticizing texts. For those with minority interest, this affords opportunities for informed discussion across vast distances, and on a global scale. Note how the empowering effects of the technology present opportunities for a shift in human consciousness.

    A further development of the third observation would be the book that can evolve through individual or collective participation. We are familiar with books having different editions, but these have become uneconomic for all but the most popular or scientific non-fiction. The ebook becomes a living organism rather than a stable and fixed cultural artefact.

    A fifth observation, more radical, and perhaps a little disturbing, takes the openness a stage further and provides books with different openings, middles, or endings. Or characters and locations that readers can alter and transform. The book perhaps comprises flexible and shifting modules, components, and floating memes, susceptible to addition, deletion, or transformation. Books that reform and deform. Texts become deconstructing games, and the balance of creative effort shifts from ‘writer’ to ‘reader.’ What’s disturbing in this case is the demise of our long cherished notions of property, authorship and ownership, guaranteed by the commodity form of the book as a fixed and stable created object. What’s more disturbing, perhaps, is the need to recognize that the period of romantic authorship, which we may be on the verge of abandoning, persisted for less than three centuries in the history of human writing and thinking systems.

    A sixth observation proposed an experience even further away from the notion of reader, writer and book as a one-to-one experience. As texts become a form of enriched and enhanced reality, a transition is made to animation and game technologies; to infinitely increased levels of interactivity and engagement. Perhaps the student textbook will prevent access to the next level, until questions have been answered correctly. Books that police our journeys through them and a corporate dream of remote learning beyond physical institutions.

    And lurking behind the collective participation is the machine tracking our preferences and choices. Reading interrupted by pop-up ads designed to capitalise and monetize our tastes and preferences. Othello becomes a weekend trip to Venice for a jealousy conselling-course; The Odyssey a Greek holiday opportunity with fantasy role play thrown in. In this scenario ebooks and maybe even the readers are offered to us for ‘free’ but are colonised by tracking, tagging and selling; a minor sacrifice and self-willed infringement of the safe and private experience of reading that is now no more than a shadowy nostalgia for a lost time, a lost place.


    Wednesday, 7 September 2011

    Deadly Cinema and Secret Cinema


    At the weekend I picked up in a charity ("thrift") shop a short book by world theatre director and experimenter Peter Brook called The Empty Space, first published in 1968, with a Pelican paperback in 1972. There have been several reprints and it's still a thoughtful discussion of the state of theatre.



    Where he speculates on 'Theatre' I found myself reflecting on 'Cinema.' It's a curious exercise to displace and compare terminologies and discourses. Sometimes it's quite shocking and sobering as a thought experiment.

    What did the theatre mean to him in 1968, and what does it mean to us in 2011?

    How have our ideas about the value(s) and function of cinema evolved alongside, or in opposition to 'theatre' ?

    If you're curious, his four chapters are titled

    The Deadly Theatre
    The Holy Theatre
    The Rough Theatre
    The Immediate Theatre

    I also found myself dreaming about a Secret Cinema. Perhaps a lost chapter of the Brook's book ?

    - An echo perhaps of composer Harrison Birtwistle's Secret Theatre ?

    Or, perhaps, more lyrically, a borrowing from the Robert Graves poem Secret Theatre:

    When from your sleepy mind the day's burden
    Falls like a bushel sack on a barn floor,
    Be prepared for music, for natural mirages
    And for the night's incomparable parade of colour.

    It is hours after midnight now, a flute signals
    Far off; we mount the stage as though at random
    Boldly ring down the curtain, then dance out our love.

    I confess that there are always piles of books around me, some not yet read, delights waiting to be opened, uncovered, discovered. One book on my desk was a novel by Carol Shields called Unless (2002). The novel opens with an epigraph from the great nineteenth-century English female novelist George Eliot:

    If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

    There's something in these books and quotes that would constitute my Secret Cinema. A place perhaps to find Wordsworth's 'still sad music of humanity'; a space for film to have rhythm and intensity, overheard visioning; but also laughter and dance; something rough and grotesque, something holy, sublime and degenerate.

    I'm wanting a secret cinema with a living drama of individuation rather than the crude trappings of a consuming and hollow individualism. A living cinema, not a deadly cinema.

    My Secret Cinema could be a projection of visionary communion and failed community; a drama of flows and conflicts; laughter and life-worlds; struggles and victories. A spectacle of people, for the people

    And I'm not objecting to being entertained either; it would be a valued alternative to cinema as recreational paralysis.

    That's the end of my part of the blog, really. I was not intending to write it up until I heard Mark Kermode speaking about his book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex: What's Wrong with Modern Movies on the BBC Radio 4 tonight. An edited version also appeared recently in The Guardian. I agree with much that he has to say in his criticism of the the big budget blockbuster, the decline of cinema and the rise of commercialism at the expense of a thinking and feeling audience who deserve more than they are offered by the marketing machinery of the film 'industry' and the 'entertainment business'.

    But I just wanted to end with some quotes from Peter Brook. He's was worried about theatre. We need to worry about cinema. As the public space declines I'm falling back on my Secret Cinema. See you there?

    Deadly Theatre / Deadly Cinema

    "The theatre has often been called a whore, meaning its art is impure, but today this is true in another sense  - whores take the money and then go short on the pleasure." (12)

    " [...] the theatre has become a deadly business and the public is smelling it out. In fact, were the public ever really to demand the true entertainment it talks about so often, we would all be hard put to know where to begin." (12)

    "We expect the so-called hit to be livelier, faster, brighter than the flop - but this is not always the case." (13)

    " [...] just the right degree of boringness is a reassuring guarantee of a worthwhile event.  Of course, the dosage is so subtle that it is impossible to establish the exact formula - too much and the audience is driven out of its seats, too little and it may find the theme too disagreeably intense." (13)

    " [...] so, tragically, in elevating something bad into a success they are only cheating themselves." (13)

    Broadway is not a jungle, it is a machine into which a great many parts snugly interlock. yet each of these parts is brutalized; it has been deformed to fit smoothly." (22)

    Yet America could easily have a great theatre of its own. It possesses every one of the elements; there is a strength, courage, humour, cash and a capacity for facing hard facts." (23)

    "Deadliness always brings us back to repetition: the deadly director uses old formulae, old methods, old jokes, old effects, stock beginnings to scenes, stock ends..." (44)

    "A deadly director is a director who brings no challenge to the conditioned reflexes that every department must contain." (44)

    "The problem of the Deadly Theatre is like the problem of the deadly bore." (45)

    "When we say deadly, we never mean dead: we mean something depressingly active, but for this reason capable of change. The first step towards this change is facing the simple unattractive fact that most of what is called theatre anywhere in the world is a travesty of a word once full of sense." (45)

    "Not least, the influence of television has been to accustom viewers of all classes all over the world to make instant judgement - at the moment they catch sight of a shot on the screen - so that the average adult continually situates scenes and characters unaided, with a 'good craftsman' helping with exposition and explanation." (42)

    "Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a supernatural oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties." (45-6)

    The Spectre of Philanthropy


    Is it surprizing that we are hearing more about the positive role of philanthropy? Is there a pro bono "for the public good" spectre lurking in the heart of every wealthy capitalist entrepreneur and successful business person?

    What was it Oscar Wilde said? "Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic." He also said, "Philanthropy is the refuge of rich people who wish to annoy their fellow creatures." Today they are back in fashion and philanthropic spirits rule over our impoverished world.

    If we are seeing  more philanthropy it does not seem to have made much of a difference, does it? And let's admit that even where the state has been rolled back and privatized, social investment by government outnumbers private donations by may hundreds of multiples. The Monster Philanthropy is a very big mouth clutching a very small purse.

    Does philathropy have any role in social transformation?

    The first factual point is that there has been a massive increase in inequality within the richest nations, and a widening gap between the richer and the poorer nations. Rising philanthropy has not had any effect on those terms.

    Recent years have seen prosperous times for celebrities and for the super-wealthy; they have been disastrous for the majority :

    in 2009 Wall Street traders managed to pay themselves $145 billion; 

    1% of Americans hold 50% of their nation's wealth;

    20% of Americans own 84% of their nation's wealth;

    The Reagan-Thatcher notion of the trickle-down effect of wealth from the top to the centre and base is just hocus-pocus. Politician rhymes magician? More sucked out than trickled down?

    According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45. That's worse than Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, where protesters claim that inequality is one of the main reasons they're protesting.

    That leads one to speculate (with ideas, not money) that we'll be seeing riots and revolution on the Streets of America.

    Of course that's unlikely to happen as most people subscribe to the idealistic notion that you can get-rich- quick if you want to. The super-rich have been successful accumulators of wealth because they have provided us with a service which we freely bought. Oh, that notion of the evil capitalist, the parasite that sucks the pure blood of the ordinary worker, that is so nineteenth-century.

    Our modern corporations, entrepreneurs and investors present a human face; some of them, indeed might be celebrated as angels of philanthropy. A more sober analysis is that capitalism, especially in its unmixed and unregulated form, perpetrates division and inequality, and then applies sticking plasters to its injuries and violations. You break a man's legs then hand him a crutch.

    Your super-wealth generosity is celebrated by the peoples of the world as they cross the environment that you are bent on polluting and destroying. Don't worry, corporate social responsibility means that there will be an item in the accounts representing a token donation to an environmental charity. Please click our Facebook LIKE button now. We will be tracking your support. Efficiently.

    A modest proposal - let's start to rethink the underlying causes of poverty and inequality rather than offering philanthropy-inspired top-down lessons in development goals, products and outcomes. Patronage is not Justice.

    A modest calculation - how much philanthropy would be required to redress current levels of social injustice?

    A modest question - how much human and planetary life is being destroyed by celebrity and super-wealth?

    Is philanthropy part of the solution, or part of the problem?

    I came across a quote and a blog recently that set me thinking ... maybe we just need a better kind of philanthropy ... more efficient ... more business-like ...

    ' "In the philanthropic world, the problem is the product, in the business world, the product is the solution." says [Hoard Graham] Buffett, who argues that NGOs are forced to "sell suffering." The needless focus on sappy narratives often overlooks sophisticated solutions that can't be easily marketed with a T-shirt-clad celebrity holding a small child.'

    Sorry that's Howard, not the venerable Warren.

    Is there not something rather illusory about the philanthropic spectre?

    If we are seeing a philanthropic revolution, will you be taking to the streets in its support? Or boarding a yacht?

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    West Midlands Human Rights Film Festival


    Organizers have put together a stimulating programme of talks, discussions and film screenings ...

    Update from West Midlands Human Rights Film Festival which runs from 6 September - 4 October 2011 in Birmingham


    "Birmingham International Film Society presents the region's first ever Human Rights Film Festival. The Festival aims to screen a range of films that investigate the notion of human rights in the 21st Century as measured against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    With a wide selection of specially invited guest speakers – filmmakers, commentators, academics and campaigners – our aim is to give audiences the opportunity to discuss and debate the issues highlighted in the films.

    With recent events at home and abroad, the Arab Spring and the riots across Britain, as well as the consequences of recent conflicts – extraordinary rendition and Guantánamo – the whole concept of human rights has been put under intense scrutiny.

    What are human rights, who is entitled to them and how are they represented by our media?"

    Schedule / Festival Venues & Ticket Prices

    The Green Wave (12A)
    Tue 6th Sep 2011 19:30
    Just Do It: A Tale of Modern-Day Outlaws (E)
    Thu 8th Sep 2011 18:00
    An Independent Mind (E)
    Thu 8th Sep 2011 20:15
    Pray The Devil Back To Hell (E)
    Tue 13th Sep 2011 18:15
    The Night of Truth (18)
    Tue 13th Sep 2011 20:15
    The Coca-Cola Case (E)
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 18:15
    The Official Story (15)
    Thu 15th Sep 2011 20:00
    Four Days Inside Guantánamo (E)
    Tue 20th Sep 2011 19:00
    Arna’s Children (E)
    Thu 22nd Sep 2011 18:00
    A Better Life (12A)
    Tue 27th Sep 2011 18:00
    Article 12 (E)
    Wed 28th Sep 2011 18:15
    Defeat of the Champion (E)
    Wed 28th Sep 2011 20:00
    Pavee Céilidh (E)
    Tue 4th Oct 2011 18:15
    Our Generation (E)
    Tue 4th Oct 2011 20:00