Video blogging for the New Statesman: Camera in hand and idea in the head

For the last few weeks I’ve been out and about filming moments in the developing protest movement against the unconscionable coalition government and its programme of swingeing cuts in every department of social provision.  The result has been a number of short videos posted here on Putney Debater. I’ve now been invited by the New Statesman to become its first video blogger, so from now on, that’s where my videos will be posted first (although I’ll continue to post written blogs here). Here’s the first one, which condenses the videos posted here previously with some additional material.
The idea I have is to build up a picture of the movement as it evolves, so I’m working on the basis that I’ll end up with a documentary record of three or four months of struggle. The method is simple: to return to Glauber Rocha’s formula for Cinema Novo in Brazil—to go and make films with a camera in the hand and an idea in the head. (Too simple for the section on methodology in a grant application, and there’s no time for that anyway, so I’m not making one.)

The model I have in the back of my mind will not surprise those who know me—it has to be Patricio Guzmán’s historic documentary of the last year of Allende’s Popular Unity government, The Battle of Chile. This may sound like chutzpah but what makes it possible for a single person to attempt to emulate that film today is of course the decisive shift into digital film-making which has created, inter alia, the video blog. Indeed a huge amount of video has been pouring onto the Web to give a very different picture of the protest and resistance movement from the way it’s presented by the big mainstream media. If the result of this profusion is the difficulty of seeing the wood for the trees, it also facilitates the endeavour, since I am able, as I start out, to draw not only on moral and intellectual support from my colleagues at Roehampton, together with the support of the New Statesman’s committed journalism, but also a network of video activists ready to share footage.

One thing that’s already struck me, as I go and film public events, is that my camera is always only one of many. Not just that, but you can quickly see what other people have made of it, because the results are rapidly posted on the web. This is fascinating—the society of the spectacle being subjected to a prismatic reality check, which has the effect of placing any individual version in question (including of course my own). But it also means that there’s always footage of events you can’t go to, again providing alternative views, and I’m going to start making use of this to fill out the narrative. (And since a video blog on a weekly journal has to count as current affairs, I can freely pull in other stuff like television news stories, under the rubric of fair use.)

It remains to be seen whether the thinking part of my brain, which tries to theoretically comprehend the nature of documentary, will keep up with the desire of my fingers, as I sit editing at the computer, to respond to what my eyes and ears discover in the footage. I’m already having to adopt a novel work rhythm.  In the old days you would go out and shoot a film and then come back and edit. This was a reflective process.  I used to start by looking through the rushes to decide what sequence I would use to end the film, and then go back and work out how to get there. That’s obviously not going to work in this case. I have to go out and shoot, come back and edit very rapidly, post up the results, and then repeat the process every week or so. This, in other words, is a situation where to paraphrase another Brazilian, the critic José Carlos Avellar, the camera is an actor within the reality which it films, and that reality is the co-author of the film.

But you too reading this can also be a co-author: if you’ve any suggestions for events I ought to film, do please let me know. And by the way, I’m not waiting to put together the longer film either. I’ve already begun doing this, and I plan to show work-in-progress as I go along. So do please get in touch if you’d like to invite me along for a screening, academic or solidarity—or both. The whole idea, after all, is that what I manage to produce should be useful.

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