Chronicle of Protest by Michael Chanan

Michael Chanan is a seasoned documentary film-maker, author of books and Professor of Film and Video at Roehampton University. Michael distributes his work across many online platforms; one of our favourites is the Putney Debater. This week, Michael Chanan shares his Chronicle of Protest documentary that was inspired by the politicisation of students in the face of education cuts in Britain.  

This is a film that the ruling order will regard (I hope) as a bit dangerous, because it wholeheartedly celebrates the protest movement against government-imposed austerity. It presents the discussion, debate and arguments which have come together in open dialogue within the movement, without preferring one position over another, but trying to make sense of the collective clamour, in opposition to the disinformation of the mainstream media.

In this sense, Chronicle of Protest fulfils the task of documentary to report on (a segment of) the world, not objectively, which is hardly possible, but without guile. For unlike television reportage, it doesn’t pretend to some mythical notion of balanced truth, but fully acknowledges the subjective positioning of the film-maker within the great We of which it speaks—the real big society, not David Cameron’s fairy tale version.

The film follows the chronology of events over five months, from November 2010 to the end of March 2011, interspersed with songs by Banner Theatre’s First of May Band, filmed at a performance of their show, Cabaret Against the Cuts. It also borrows footage from various sources, since this is current affairs, which nowadays passes not only on television but also on the web. The purpose of these borrowings is not to give a ‘balanced’ picture but a dynamic one, which reminds us of the give-and-take of the public sphere around the issues of the day.

The mainstream media come under criticism from the start, exposed by the new flux of the internet’s social media, which have become a parallel domain of communication through which the politically unorganised can discover each other, communicate, and organise with great rapidity. This film belongs to this alternative circuit, since it takes the form of a reworking of a series of video blogs originally posted on the New Statesman web site. As the Brazilian film critic José Carlos Avellar put it another context, the camera is an actor within the reality which it films, and that reality is the co-author of the film.

One of the things it inevitably shows in consequence is the reclamation of public space through occupations, street protests, marches and rallies, as the proper place for the expression of popular political demands, precisely because the popular voice is never heard in the mediated public sphere directly but always filtered by the editorial stance. In this film, by contrast, the aim is to hand the word over to the range of individual and collective voices which are now ringing in the politicians’ ears at every turn, clamouring for social justice.

My main hope? That it proves useful in expressing and strengthening the spirit of popular resistance to the democratic deficit of Britain under the Cameron-Clegg Coalition.

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