Glasgow: RFN 16

 

Author: David Archibald
Co-Directors: Jessica McGoff and Daniel McIlwraith
Producer: David Archibald
Format: Documentary
Duration: 21 minutes 30 seconds
Published: November 2017


Research Statement

Criteria

In making Glasgow: RFN 16 the research questions we addressed were as follows:
– What film production practices would be concomitant with the de-centred, autonomous nature of the 2016 Radical Film Network Festival and Unconference?
– If the radicality of the 2016 Radical Film Network Festival and Unconference is expressed, in part, through the juxtaposition of events created by diverse individuals and organisation working under one umbrella, how best could this be illustrated in the film?

Context

Established in 2013, the Radical Film Network brings together academics, activists, filmmakers and cultural workers involved in producing, promoting and researching radical film cultures. The second RFN conference (RFN 16) took place in Glasgow over the 2016 May Day bank holiday weekend and consisted of a non-hierarchical unconference at the University of Glasgow and a film festival. RFN 16 represented the collective efforts of numerous disparate individuals and organisations: although it had a central organising team, its programme was largely autonomous and de-centred. The central team decided to create an audio-visual historical record of the event and appointed Jessica McGoff and Daniel McIlwraith as co-directors of the film and David Archibald as producer. In order to add a practice research dimension to the project, we addressed two research questions in the filmmaking process. These questions, outlined above, relate to the film’s mode of production and its formal qualities.

The film’s mode of production utilises aspects of the crowd-sourced documentary and corresponds with RFN 16’s de-centred structure: the completed film combines original footage shot by McGoff and McIlwraith, photographs and footage shot by persons involved in organising the festival’s constituent parts, and clips from programed films. While not making significant claims for the innovative nature of this methodological approach, it was in keeping with the event’s ethos: the film’s mode of production mirrored the festival’s semi-autonomous organisational structure in that the content of the crowd-sourced footage was determined by those involved in organising the events rather than the central filmmaking team.

During the preparations for RFN 16, extensive discussion took place among the participants as to what constituted the ‘radical’, in radical film. Rather than restricting these debates to long-standing and on-going discussions on the politics of film form, we took the view that the radicality of RFN 16 emerged chiefly in two areas. Firstly, in relation to exhibition, only one of the 35 events was programmed in a cinema, and, secondly, through the unification and juxtaposition of a diverse series of events and screenings organised under one umbrella. For the filmmakers it was important to represent both aspects. With its ability to record and project moving images and, through montage, seemingly be transported geographically and temporally, cinema is perhaps the best art form to illustrate these qualities. This is evidenced in the film as we shift rapidly between events and screenings in numerous spaces throughout Glasgow, opening with Document Film Festival’s ‘Moving Parts and Revolutions: Cycling Through Cinema’ which moves along the banks of the River Clyde to a dilapidated church south of the river, and concluding with the ‘Theories of Community’ screening in a railway arch in the Gorbals, organised by Glasgow filmmaker, Basharat Khan, who provided the footage for this section of the film.

Footage of a series of Radical Home Cinema screenings hosted by a wide mix of Glasgow-based artists and activists exemplifies the diversity of the event. The event in the local Barrowlands market organised by the self-styled Mr Glasgow, Gary Barton, indicates that the festival was rooted (‘radical’ is derived from the Latin ‘radix’) in the local community. However, the global perspective of the event also emerges here as we see footage of Azerbaijani-Scottish activist Fuad Alakbarov’s event on international human rights and cinema, Basque activist Nerea Sagarzazu’s hosting of Alardearen seme-alabak/Sons and Daughters of the Alarde (2013) – with co-director Jone Karres in attendance – and Basharat Khan’s event on Palestine and the media. Radical Home Cinema consisted of a series of local events which primarily addressed global concerns, indicating that there is no contradiction between the local and the global. Indeed, as any dialectician worth their salt will tell you, to engage in radical activity on a local basis is, simultaneously, to engage in radical activity internationally.

This local/global dialectic is evidenced further in the footage of the events in the Scottish Trades Union Congress headquarters. Here we see shots of the STUC exterior, footage of the building’s interior with one room transformed into a pop-up cinema, and numerous events and screenings which fuse the struggles of blacklisted building workers and local trade union activists involved in film production with Spanish Civil War revolutionaries and international environmental and political activists. This also illustrates how the building operated as a proletarian public sphere (Negt and Kluge) during the festival for screenings, debate, discussion, and entertainment, as exemplified by the inclusion of footage of the ‘Fail Better Cabaret’, which punctuates the film throughout.

In keeping with an attempt to let the film ‘speak for itself’, we rejected narration or explanatory interviews, allowing the spectator freedom to construct meaning free from authorial intervention. We also employed a similar non-interventionist approach in relation to the clips from festival films which are included. These range from local short films from Glasgow-based filmmakers Chris Leslie on the shifting nature of the city’s working-class architectural landscape and Kirsten MacLeod on the lives and memories of local working-class women, to international features, Concerning Violence (Göran Olsson, 2014), based on Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and Come Worry With Us (Helene Klodawsky, 2013), which deals with women negotiating the demands of parenting and artistic production. The inclusion of footage of Glasgow-based, Mexican filmmaker, Carla Novi, interviewing Bangladeshi factory workers in her 2014 film Rana Plaza, further highlights the connections between the city, the event, and international concerns.

In filming the unconference, which, operated as a space to reflect on and engage with this work intellectually, we eschewed the decision to hear the participants’ voices, offering, instead, a visual sense of the unconference through a series of shots of the speakers. This segment hoped to represent the gestures of discussion, and the manner in which people discussed and debated, rather than the specificities of the debates themselves. In adopting this approach, we hoped this would allow the spectator the space to conjure a sense of the discussions, both real and virtual, which might have been taking place. There were several live music events that occurred at the event, and the decision was taken not only to document these events but to incorporate their audio within the edit of Glasgow RFN:16. Live music captured the atmosphere of the festival, wherein aural elements (music, discussion, sound on film) emerged as important as visual elements. This underlined the festival’s focus not solely on film as an (assumed) primarily visual medium, but also on film cultures and social movements. Live music stands to portray the live-ness of the festival itself. Further, music, in relation to documentation, has a strong affective quality, provoking more emotive or mnemonic responses. In this way, the film’s music privileges the experience of attending the festival over the practicalities and logistics of the event itself. In the same sense, the use of non-live music that replaces the dialogue and voices of the members of the unconference indicates that the individual statements made during the conference were secondary to the collective and collaborative discourses as a whole.

In recent years, Film Studies has witnessed significant growth in practice research, in the study of film festivals, and in audio-visual film criticism. In making a short film (with a practice research dimension) about a radical film festival (and unconference), this work brings these sub-fields of the discipline together. There is extensive academic literature on all aspects of this work however, due to the word limit of this research statement, such literature cannot be discussed in depth here. Overall, we sought to highlight the diversity of the events and screenings taking place over the weekend, to illustrate their unification and juxtaposition, and to find a cinematic form, which was concomitant with this ethos and practice.

Methods

The co-directors and producer of the film have a background in Film Studies, as academics, students, video essayists and filmmakers. The broader organising committee which provided input to the film, either through contributing content or discussing the film’s form, hail from a range of activist, artistic, and academic backgrounds. It is important to stress the collaborative nature of the work. From the outset, the filmmakers were tasked with making a film, which was aligned with the event’s de-centred ethos. As such, a decision was made to produce a film which would combine footage shot by the central filmmakers, footage provided by the individual event organisers, and clips from the films screened.

A call was made for organisations to contribute filmed footage/photography of their own individual events and clips from the films they had screened. The co-directors and producer met regularly to a) discuss the general approach to the work b) determine which aspects of the festival the central team would ensure were covered – notably the unconference, the social events at the Scottish Trades Union Congress HQ and the Document Film Festival and c) co-ordinate the contributions from the other festival events. The co-directors met regularly with the producer as they began to develop early versions. As the producer was the overall festival and unconference coordinator, he had a comprehensive knowledge of the event and could flag any significant gaps. The producer also provided feedback on early versions as the film moved towards a rough cut; however, the co-directors had artistic freedom.

Regular verbal reports on the film’s process were provided to the central organising committee, which also had an opportunity to attend a screening of the rough cut. At this screening they provided further feedback and there was discussion within the group over whether to include narration and explanatory interviews with conflicting views aired. It was notable that the activists were more inclined to support narration while the academics and filmmakers present rejected this approach. There was no consensus on this and the decision was devolved to the co-directors and producer who rejected the use of both interviews (although we had filmed these at the event to have as an option in the edit) and narration. This was also the majority opinion among the group as a whole.

It should be added that the entire process was harmonious with all decisions reached through conversation and the discussion over narration and interviews being the only instance in which conflicting views emerged. As such, the process of the film’s production was in keeping with the festival’s de-centred, autonomous nature.

Outcomes

Perhaps the key point here relates to process. Film-making is inherently collaborative although traditional film-making (and Film Studies) has prioritised the labour of directors and producers. The mode of production in Glasgow: RFN 16 was not completely horizontal; rather it combined elements of centralisation and collaboration. This mix, which was in keeping with the ethos of the event, was one which met with the support of the participants.

Dissemination

The festival received funding from Creative Scotland and Film Hub Scotland and a portion of this funding was allocated to finance the film. The completed film was first screened on 12 October 2016 in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow as part of a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Radical Independent Book Fair: http://cca-glasgow.com/programme/rfn16-world-premiere The screening was attended by a number of the festival participants and acted as a catalyst for discussion on future Radical Film Network activities in Scotland. The film was then subsequently made available online via Vimeo. Archibald screened the film at the 2016 European Network for Cinema and Media Studies conference as counterpoint to a paper he delivered on ‘Engaging Radical Film Cultures in Scotland’.

Impact

As the film was commissioned by Radical Film Network (Scotland) it has contributed to the organisation’s public-facing activities. As a showcase of its activities, it provides a valuable, and easily accessible, audio-visual resource as it moves towards developing a similar project to RFN16, based on 1968 and its afterlives, in 2018.

References

Kluge, A. and Negt, O. (2016) Public Sphere and Experience: Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere. London and New York: Verso.


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows.

Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement

The Radical Film Network Festival and Unconference 2016 took an innovative approach to facilitating debate around and diverse experiences of radical film culture and it’s refreshing to see this approach translated into this film’s mode of production. As the filmmakers themselves point out, their methodology isn’t completely innovative, but what I found compelling about the film, having taken part myself in RFN16, is the juxtaposition between collaborative – and often radical – approaches to different aspects of film culture that come together in it. The way alternative ways of making, showing, and viewing films spread to this film’s production process, coming full circle as it were, is what’s significant about it, as it shows potential for cross-fertilisation between different radical film practices.

Following the filmmakers’ acknowledgement of the methodology already being established, it seems appropriate to further contextualise their own practice in relation to scholarship on collaborative filmmaking. In the statement, there’s ample reflection on the footage included, and the involvement of event organisers in the filming and in the discussion about a rough cut, reflecting the project’s collaborative ethos. The footage was defined as crowd-sourced, which brings up an obvious question that I’d like to see some acknowledgement of in the statement: was audience participation in filming ever considered? While I recognise the practical challenge of coordinating it, especially since the filmmakers were also involved in organising the festival and unconference, it’s a challenge worth considering for similar projects, as it would extend the collaborative process further, and I think having the filmmakers’ perspective on their consideration of audience participation would make this an even more valuable contribution for radical practitioners reading the journal.

Given the project’s collaborative ethos, I found the moment when an unseen participant asked why is it that we don’t hear about the story of Ethel Macdonald at the screening of An Anarchist’s Story to be quite significant for two reasons. Firstly, it acted as a powerful reminder of both the importance of radical film culture for understanding social movements and of a thirst for radical films among those present, as the Q&A chair pointed out. Secondly, it’s one of the few moments when the voice of an audience member is heard. Audiences are often shown in the film, but they’re not heard participating a lot, which seems odd for an audio-visual record of RFN16 since their voices were indeed a key element of the event’s success. Which brings me to my final point on sound. The use of music was another compelling feature of the film, especially where source live music performed at the Fail Better Cabaret was used as a background soundtrack to other footage, producing audio-visual unity. The statement would benefit from more reflection on music and sound, especially since the filmmakers present this as an audio-visual record of RFN16.

This is a very valuable work which takes RFN16’s collaborative ethos into the film’s production process and the filmmakers’ reflections on the making of the film will provide important insights into radical production practices.

Review 2: Accept work and statement for publication with no alterations

First of all, I am asked to make a recommendation. The available choices fall in roughly four categories:
a. Accept work and statement for publication with no alterations.
b. Accept work but require revision of statement.
c. Invite resubmission with re edit of work and/or statement.
d. Reject both work and statement.

In principle, I never recommend rejection (d) as I believe the role of reviewers is not to reject but to assist people see what they are blind to. I also would not recommend revision of statement (b): it ought to be published as it is, because it reveals what the authors of the work consider important (and it is not for the reviewer to tell them what to think). I would not choose (c) either, because I do not believe in such top-down approach to the work of others – they will start seeing things differently when they are ready. Therefore, I have chosen option (a) and recommend publication of the work as it is.

Viewing this 21 min long documentary as a foreign woman, I relate to the documentary with some aversion. As someone who has made the UK her adoptive country, and as someone who subscribes to a fair share of what would qualify as radical ideas, I find it a slightly self-indulgent work.

For instance, the film seems to lack the diversity which Glasgow as a city exhibits. By comparison with an overall ‘white’ Scotland where, according to the Scottish government’s web-site, ethnic minorities account for about 4% of the population (2011 census), Glasgow is a multi-ethnic city. It had about 12% of the so-called ‘visible minorities’ in 2011, perhaps more now. However, the representation of these communities in the radical event that is being documented in this work should be called into question.

Perhaps ethnic minorities in Glasgow simply have less interest in radical work? The 2014 study entitled Geographies of Deprivation and Diversity in Glasgow (http://www.ethnicity.ac.uk/medialibrary/briefings/localdynamicsofdiversity/geographies-of-deprivation-and-diversity-in-glasgow.pdf) would suggest otherwise, revealing a staggering picture of prevalence of deprivation related to non-Whites. In the study, ‘the overall deprivation score is derived from seven domains: income, employment, health, education, housing, geographic access and housing.’ Many of the same domains seem to be in the focus of the ‘radical’ event that the text under discussion documents. The filmmakers have missed an opportunity to tackle this issue in their depiction of the event and to address an apparent contradiction underpinning the festival.

I also do not believe that this particular short contributes anything new to the discourse. There are many other similar events aroud the globe (most often represented in the context of human rights film festivals); respectively, many other similar films have been made and shown.

Some of these films and events are discussed in the general contributions, in specific case studies, as well as interviews in Iordanova, Dina and Torchin, Leshu (eds) Film Festivals and Activism, 2013 – a work that would be the most obvious reference here but is not quoted. Specific contributions made by One World Network and Movies that Matter have led to the creation of various materials such as online guidebooks, videos, checklists and network facilities. These are often connected with the names of activists such as Igor Blazhevic (Prague-based but working globally on promoting the One World project nowadays) and Taco Ruighaver. What I see presented in the context of the work, and perhaps the whole Radical Film event, may have certain novelty value in the British context that I am not as closely familiar with. But it is a model that is well developed elsewhere and appears to have been replicated here. Whilst I can see that there is a degree of enthusiasm that comes along with this project, I would question its originality.

The contextualisation here is limited, both in regard to referencing scholarship and in regard to referencing similar practice events. There is some good discussion of the work of Kluge and Negt. Besides these theoretical texts all other references are to a local scene and there is no evidence that the author is at all familiar with the practice scene related to these matters at large – massive documentary film festivals network (which is also covered extensively in recent writing by Valliejo and others), massive scene of activist film festivals (recent edited collection by Tascon), extensive writing on other cause-based, human rights and globally-concerned movements that result in similar events (a significant number of texts have been published in recent years on these matters, in the UK, USA, and Asia; none are referenced here). There is no mention in the text whatsoever of the famous Subversive Film Festival and Conference in Zagreb, after which the Radical Film initiative is clearly modelled. There is no mention of any of the above festivals and networks, which are precisely the practice dimensions of what needs referencing. My feeling is that the interest of this project is totally local (in the sense of ‘provincial’) as it makes no effort to connect to developments outside the specific location/goal of the event under discussion and thus remains isolated.

Review 3: Accept work and statement for publication with no alterations

Is there anything more ‘meta’ than making a film about a film festival?

Earlier this year, the organisers of the Scalarama film festival – another de-centred, democratic and autonomous film festival concept – put out a call on their Facebook group for suggestions of ‘films about film watching’. The list has since been shared on Letterboxd, here: https://letterboxd.com/scalarama/watchlist/.

It lists 65 films, but only one of these is about a film festival: this is a documentary about another ‘radical’ film festival, the International Queer Film Festival in Hamburg. It is possible that many of the films made at and about film festivals do not get circulated widely because they will have been made for evaluation purposes, or with either press or funders in mind. The ‘festival film’ is also an attempt to sum up the impossible – the experience of any festival is going to be unique to the individual participant.

Glasgow: RFN 16 documents a film festival which emerged out of a diverse and non-hierarchical organising context. The film makers’ concern with depicting these important “constituent parts” and capturing the breadth of festival events means that the film they produced is an assemblage of different kinds of material and footage, some of which was crowdsourced from the participants themselves: photographs, recordings of panel sessions, clips of actual film content and intertitles. The festival’s kinetic-looking graphic logo is used to divide the film into sections, making it easier to understand what we are experiencing as viewers.

The producer’s aim was to document an event and publicise the activities of the Radical Film Network in Scotland to a wider group than just festival attendees means that the film is a useful resource in that respect, but it is also a sensual and poetic journey around the city of Glasgow. For example, watch the mesmerising opening sequence and then enjoy the clash of different pieces of music that follows.

The films that were exhibited, watched and discussed during the RFN 16 festival dealt with a range of emotive issues, but this documentary is quite matter of fact, it shows proceedings, without opinions, and reflects (or respects) the co-produced and community-led circumstances of the Scottish RFN’s mode of production.

This detachment becomes really apparent in section on the (un)conference sessions; filming a conference at a University and then presenting it to the public without the need to label those who are speaking, or even being able to hear what they are saying, and only showing body gestures and faces set to music, is quite refreshing.

One element that is mentioned in the submission notes that remains, for me, a little unexplored at the moment, is the theoretical concept hinted at by referring to a proletarian or plebeian ‘Public Sphere’. This is an idea that I would like to see applied in future work on festivals and in particular to future iterations of the Radical Film Network’s festival projects and their documentation, criticism and/or reflections.

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.

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