the Disillusioned kid: Cinema Verite
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cinema Verite

With the Broadway, Screen Room, Savoy, Showcase and UGC, Nottingham isn't short of cinemas. But if you're looking for underground activist documentaries, you'll have to try elsewhere, namely the Scroat, which takes place (more or less) weekly at the Sumac Centre. They show a wide range of videos, often with speakers who are actively involved in the issues covered. There's even food provided beforehand and a bar to provide fuel for post-film discussions.

Last night's offering was Jill's Film, about the life and death of Jill Phipps. Jill was an animal rights activist killed during protests against live animal exports twelve years ago today (February 1). Clearly the film was, on one level, about animal rights. The focus, however, wasn't so much on the philosophical, ethical and strategic questions that this raises, but on Jill's own life and how she had come to be involved in the animal liberation movement.

Put together and edited by one of her friends and with extensive comments from her mother (who was also involved in campaigning) the film made no pretense about offering an objective account, instead offering an insight into Jill from the perspective of those who knew and loved her. Sure, it probably wouldn't get past the gatekeepers on the TV, but that wasn't its intent.

Propaganda films can come across as didactic which is often off-putting, even where you broadly agree with the points being made. Jill's Film isn't without such moments and there are a few occasions where the resort to cliche ("Fur coats are worn by beautiful animals and ugly people") struck me as pointless and unconvincing sloganeering, but for the most part the film avoids this and is much the stronger for doing so. We follow Jill from her childhood, through the punk scene, into anti-fascism and onto the nascent 1980s animal rights movement. We learn about some of her early experiences, her break from activism after her son was born and her ill-fated return in the hope of stopping live animal exports from Coventry Airport.

While I've been a vegetarian for sometime and peripherally involved in animal rights activity, it's not something I've ever felt able to throw myself into for various reasons. In part this is because the situation seems so hopeless given the sheer scale of animal abuse and the largely disinterested response of most people. Most people don't seem to care about the huge numbers of humans being brutalised, starved and killed across the world; what chance is there that they're going to give a damn about other species? For me, one of the weaknesses of the film (at least from a propagandist perspective) was that it compounded this feeling of powerlessness. Sure the clips of pigs being kicked, sheep having the throats slit while they're still alive and chickens confined to tiny cages are horrific, but by emphasising the immense scale of the problem my response isn't anger (which can lead to action), but depression (which doesn't).

This needn't be the case. Live animal exports were and remain a weak point in the system. The nature of the beast is that it presents relatively easy targets (as lorries have to get onto boats or load their "cargo" into planes and typically have to follow predictable routes to do so) and generates huge opposition from across the political spectrum (as was clear from the video). To be fair, the guy responsible for the film (whose name escapes me) made this point after the film showing.

Long story short: if you get the chance (and you can download it for free so you all have) watch it. If nothing else, it'll go someway to dispelling some of the more ridiculous characterisations of animal rights activist which appear in the media.

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