Interview: Tim Hjersted of Films For Action
Apr24

Interview: Tim Hjersted of Films For Action

As research for a panel on the subject of ‘audiences’ at the Radical Film Network‘s inaugural conference earlier this year, I spoke to a number of media organisers and radical filmmakers about their work and how they survive while doing it. This is the second of two interviews I’ve published (the other being last week’s with Franklin Lopez of subMedia.tv), with the intention of inspiring, comforting and galvanising those making political work and no money. Tim Hjersted is the co-founder and head of operations (note the lower case, not an official title) of political video site Films For Action. He and his colleagues have been collating and curating political films, images and articles for the last eight years, and at last count they had 400,000 followers on Facebook. Tim kindly took time to answer my questions, and gave us an insight into his beliefs about fair compensation for activists, the work that goes into running a digital venture like this, ending with a lovely quote from Derrick Jensen about integrity and social media. (What more can you ask for from a concluding sentence?) (FUN FACT: All of us in the previous paragraph are somehow connected – last night, I attended the launch of the Bristol chapter of Films for Action, headed by Andrew who has worked for Films for Action for the last couple of years and who I will now be working with in Bristol as part of the film festival I co-run; Franklin’s work at subMedia.tv was the theme of the night, some of which is a documentary called END:CIV about the work of radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen. Thanks to the internet, it’s a small world.) ————————————- What spurred you to start Films For Action? Learning about the various ways that the mass media harmed society and filtered out important information led us to thinking about how we could ‘become the media’ in our own town, to help correct the deficiencies of our local media. We had seen a few activist films by that point, and one of our co-founders worked at an independent theater, so one night we were hanging out in a friend’s kitchen and we talked about the idea of hosting a film screening. This first event was a success – 320 people came, so we kept doing more. This article goes into more detail on how we got started: http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/be_the_media_change_the_world_a_summary_of_films_for_actions_strategy_for_change/ Are you independently funded? 95% of our funding comes from advertising on the site. The other 5% comes from donations, which we really never promote, but the support we get from people is definitely appreciated. We’d consider this independent because Google Adsense doesn’t care in any way what kind of content...

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Interview: Franklin Lopez of subMedia.tv
Apr10

Interview: Franklin Lopez of subMedia.tv

As research for a panel on the subject of ‘audiences’ at the Radical Film Network‘s inaugural conference earlier this year, I spoke to a number of media organisers and radical filmmakers about their work and how they survive while doing it. This is one of two interviews I will publish, with the intention of inspiring, comforting and galvanising those making political work and no money. Franklin Lopez is an anarchist video maker based in North America (though, as he noted early on in our conversation, he considers himself stateless) and creator of the video site subMedia.tv. He has been producing quality political videos (from feature length documentaries to collaborations with poets and mash-ups) for over a decade, all of which can be watched for free at the site, and he produces a monthly radical newsreel vlog that can be found there and on YouTube. Franklin kindly took time to answer my questions, and thankfully gave some encouraging answers about the contact he has with his audiences, being fairly compensated for his work, and refusing to give up his political values in the name of ‘expansion’. ——————————- How did subMedia.tv and The Stimulator come about? Well, subMedia and the stimulator are two different things. subMedia.tv is a website that published anarchist films me and my friends produce as well as other videos, and The Stimulator is the character of a web-vlog we produce called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine” or as we call it “The Fuckin Show”. subMedia.tv was created as an independent venture, owned and funded outside of corporate media with the goal of broadcasting radical and anarchist films. The Fuckin Show was created to provide radical news and analysis on a monthly basis to an audience of radicals and anarchists, and those who are curious about radical and anarchist ideas. The Fuckin Show is supposed to be funny and provide much needed comic relief to the stuffy real of radical and anarchist discourse. subMedia wasn’t always radical; we made political films with a liberal left sensibility, but it evolved over the years to be the rabble rousing agit prop propaganda media production house that it is today. So in 2001 while the US beat the drums of war, we felt a need to aid the anti-war movement, came into contact with anarchists and thus began this process that radicalized how and why we make films.   Are you completely independently funded? 150 per cent!   How the hell do you fund this operation? Mostly small donations from viewers, some from DVD sales and some from screenings.   Is there one activity/source...

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Counter-violence in the Arts and Education
Sep10

Counter-violence in the Arts and Education

In 1995 a University of California student, Paul Alexander Julitainen, made a film called Herbert’s Hippopotamus: Marcuse and Revolution in Paradise. One of the film’s highlights is an interview/exchange between German philosopher, Herbert Marcuse, and a journalist, wherein the latter attempts to elicit the professor’s advocacy of violence, referring particularly to student-led rioting over the Vietnam War. Finally conceding to at least the idea of a ‘counter-violence’ on the part of the students in their response to the belligerence of the state, the journalist nevertheless continues to pine for sensationalist simplification: J: If I understand the theory there is supposed to be some redeeming virtue for participants in violence, that it lets them work out their frustrations and get them out of their systems, and that this somehow does them some good, and that therefore it is a positive social good to engage in violence. HM: No, you see, that I consider a vulgar psychological interpretation, which is, in addition, not applicable here because it completely overlooks the motives and objectives of the protest movement. But there is, we talked about it, a difference between the violence of defense and the violence of aggression. J: Well there was certainly violence against people in the Paris riots. HM: Counter-violence. That I have seen. The students were perfectly peaceful, and the police got orders, first to clear the core of the Sorbonne, and then to clear the streets. And you know that they don’t exactly do that in the way of a nursemaid singing a baby to sleep. J: Counter-violence is okay, in your view? HM: It’s not a question of whether or not it’s okay. It’s a question of when and where it is necessary, necessary in order to keep alive yourself and what you stand for. Ironically (though not unsurprisingly) Marcuse was then labeled an advocate of violence by the mainstream media and was eventually forced into retirement by UC management. It is worth bearing these kind of power structures (right-wing politics, mainstream media and their confluences within education) in mind. What I want to do here is apply Marcuse’s idea of a counter-violence in a broader sense to the everyday work of academics, teachers, artists and those who recognise the violence inherent in the process of sublimating public needs to those of capital. The focus is on the changing nature of funding streams, and a proposed response to that change that involves the retention of some form of independence from the pervasiveness of the market, if this is at all possible. To illustrate this change I use a brief and by no means total example of two different...

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Film Festivals and the Neo-liberal City
Jun03

Film Festivals and the Neo-liberal City

This essay will show how the history of film festivals is tied to the historical process (ongoing) of the neo-liberalisation of cities. If we take seriously the prospect of film festivals as nodes of anti-capitalist resistance and facilitators of what Habermas calls communicative action, we need to understand the extent to which they are currently bound up with, participating in, and even used by dominant systems such as the economic and political. It is important to understand how, historically, they have been wielded in a geo-political struggle for hegemony, and how their functioning within the city adds to the malaise of governing phenomena perpetuating the ‘society of the spectacle’. Looking at festivals in this context gives us an insight into the broader functions of capital, specifically “how local cultural developments and traditions become absorbed within the calculi of political economy” (Harvey 2013: 100), a good question to ask when faced with the extreme and ongoing bureaucratization of public goods such as health and education, not to mention the injection of widely unchallenged parlance regarding the creative and knowledge ‘economies’ into the cultural sphere. Film festivals, then, have always been on the frontline in the battle for territorial as well as ideological space. The problem (or solution) is that we are only now realising their potential for anti-capitalist agitation, right when a large number are springing up all over the world under the sanitised and largely unconsidered auspices of ‘human rights’ and ‘activist’ film festivals, which, far from positing fundamental change as a possibility, are primarily spaces of ‘niche market’ accumulation which I suspect Solanas and Getino (1969) would identify as part of the left-wing arm of capitalism.   This essay can be broadly divided into three sections. Firstly, I look at one of the relations that defines the role of film festivals: namely their subservience to the practice of city marketing. This leads into an analysis of the history of film festivals as entwined with the historical conflict between capital and dissent, the primary focus being on the relation between the festival circuit and avant-garde film movements. Looking at the former as microcosmic representations of broader political and cultural fluctuations, the final section highlights the ongoing proliferation and marketisation of film festivals, drawing some conclusions as to how those interested in film and politics might make positive interventions against capitalist ‘development’.   Film festivals have always played a role in broadcasting positive representations of the cities in which they take place. This is part of a wider practice called city marketing, which “was recognised as an essential activity for cities that wanted to compete in the global arena. The...

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6 Grim Truths Revealed in The Act Of Killing
Apr27

6 Grim Truths Revealed in The Act Of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing has been generating increasing fear and bewilderment amongst the previously ignorant of late, bringing farcical performances of horrific murders from grinning, cha-cha-ing killers to our shocked and appalled senses. Acclaimed documentarist, actor, and executive producer Werner Herzog describes the film as “powerful, surreal and terrifying” and “unprecedented in the history of cinema.” The fact that his contract requires him to repeat this to each interviewer is irrelevant; he is correct every time. Once the film finishes and the impotent rage and shaking have subsided, you may find that to stop the repetitions in your mind’s eye, you need to coax your denial back. Tell yourself ‘it could be worse’. And you’d be correct every time! Admitting there’s a complex, systemic problem is the first step to really understanding and making futile attempts to rectify it. To truly move past the trauma of seeing The Act of Killing, we need to untangle and face all truths hidden beneath the now welcome distraction of pantomime homicide. The golden age of Hollywood improved the killers’ methods. Stories thrive on cultural tropes, and Hollywood’s particular brand does comedy duos, underdog narratives and representations of gloriously vicious gang killings to a numbingly high standard. The classical Hollywood era is generally remembered in the collective Western consciousness as timeless, glib, interestingly-lit fantasies; glittery outfits gurning and flailing their way through songs about rain, safe in the knowledge that if ever a Wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz was almost certainly one. Their capacity to be read as a series of PSAs for a thrifty, efficient genocide went over our heads. But this was not lost on The Act of Killing’s very own Laurel and Hardy, Anwar and Herman, who reveal that prior to the genocide they were just regular blue-collar gangsters (read: fateful underdogs), working in a black-market cinema which showed then-banned Hollywood films. They loved the good-ol days of industrialised ‘Merican cultural output as much as the next…average joe, from the latest Elvis vehicle to the many variations by which each genre depicted their protagonists committing efficacious murders. Mob films were especially beloved by the gangsters, as they saw their lives reflected in the consequence-free narratives of their American brothers-in-arms. Anwar confesses that seeing those wily Americans performing that old ‘strangulation with wire’ act (classic!) in Hollywood gangster films gave them their preferred method for ending the lives of their many opponents. In an interview given on Indonesian public television, the show’s host trills enthusiastically at the “amazing” revelation that they were inspired by films, to create  “a system more humane, less sadistic and without excessive force”. And she’s on to...

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Robocop, Robocop & The Politics of Emancipation
Feb09

Robocop, Robocop & The Politics of Emancipation

The 2014 Robocop remake has arrived! Revamping, updating and down-camping the 1987 original for the viewing pleasure of the global mass market! Boo corporations, post-90s technology, human emotion and/or error… Yay Robocop!   While the new story has been adapted accordingly for our newer, shinier and digital-er time, the influence of the original Verhoeven film is evident throughout, with direct references to OCP (now “the parent company of Omnicorp”) and lines such as “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar…” Eyyy! See what they did?! They WOULDN’T buy it for a dollar, AND there were zero gratuitous boobs. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Robocop 2.0 (Robocop 2 already happened) marks the point at which Hollywood has officially surpassed adolescence. Robocop 2.0 is subverting 1987’s surprisingly Reaganite narrative, which, according to Steven Best “neatly coalesces with rightwing fantasies of social subversion” and becomes “a front for increased surveillance and the rollback of constitutional rights”. Ha! Reagan.   I can accept that Paul Verhoeven was an unwitting accomplice to the cultural landscape that produced an acceptance of Ronald Reagan, and later Arnold Schwartzenegger, as the actual political leaders of genuine geographical places, but it is slightly harder to accept of director José Padilha. It interests me to understand the dynamics and effects of, and between, these two films that both appear to satirize and criticize corporate corruption, right-wing media bias and the military industrial complex. Robocop 2.0 certainly tries to break with the pantomimic sci-fi camp of the original, to situate itself within a contemporary political landscape where melding man with machine is not only possible, but something you can pay to have done for a laugh. So what are the issues and limits remaining in 2.0?   Robo2.0 is destined to be filed, as with the majority of films I see at multiplexes, under ‘Films I Sort of Enjoyed at a Surface Level and Made Me Well Up at Times, Containing the Obvious, Ubiquitous Tropes I’m Tired Of’, cross referenced with ‘Completely Lacking Subtlety and Self-Awareness’. The problem with Robocop 2.0 is painfully obvious. It’s a film produced by MGM & Columbia, distributed by Columbia, Sony, Universal, Disney and 20th Century Fox, that attempts to critique corporate culture. What more can it do than have a slapdash chew on the hand that feeds it? The original touched on Evil Corporatism only to the extent that it needed to to drive the plot (it is unable “to locate the real sources of alienation and reification. At no moment does Robocop suggest that the numerous serious social issues it raises — from nuclear disaster to monopoly control — are inherent in or fundamentally related to the...

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