The Radical Film Network

I have to confess that I have only just informed myself of this network though probably quite a few readers are familiar with it. Formed in 2013 in London it is now fairly widespread across several continents. The objects are to further ‘radical film’ and participants are involved in production, exhibition and associated activities. Radical is defined as

“ . . . first and foremost to a political affiliation to progressive politics and struggles for social justice – from workers’ rights and environmental sustainability to gender, racial and sexual equality.”

A current and welcome project is ‘RFN 68’,

“Taking the radical uprisings and revolutionary fervour of this rare and volatile year as a source of inspiration, the RFN68 festival examines the legacy of the events of 1968 through an international programme of films, workshops, discussion and social events, organised by the Radical Film Network.”

Several events have taken place in Leeds and I attended a screening of In the Intense Now / No Intenso Agora (João Moreira Salles, Brazil, 2017 ) at the Hyde Park Picture House.

This is a documentary about 1968 but offering a distinctive approach. A compilation documentary it uses home movies from Salles’ family and found footage from films of the period, amateur film footage and some material from television, radio and printed sources. Some of the film soundtracks appear in the film but for most of the running time there is a commentative voice of the director. The film is in black and white and colour and in the Academy ratio: it is good to see a film where the makers resists the conventional re-framing of archive footage.

This is a fairly subjective but sympathetic revisiting of Paris in May 1968 and parallel places and events though the parallels are those felt by the director. The film opens with footage from a home movie shot by the director’s mother on a visit to China in 1966 followed by film of events in Prague in 1968 and then some more home movie, this time in a street in Brazil. These signal some of the preoccupations of the film-maker, though they are only clarified as the film progresses. The footage from China was filmed during the Cultural Revolution and features Red Guards who are surprisingly friendly to these bourgeois tourists. The footage from Brazil shows family members but also, as the narrative voice points out, the class situation in which they live.

The first part of the film is mainly devoted to events in Paris in May 1968. The film more or less follows the chronology of events but this is not a history of that month but a series of fragments that give a sense of what happened and offer [as one review suggested] ‘radical romanticism’.

Certain characters occupy the centre. Thus we see and hear General de Gaulle at the New Year of 1967; twice towards the end of May 1968; and finally at the New Year 1968. On television he seems a relic from the past but on radio he is the voice of tradition and moderation. The film thus includes television coverage of the mass demonstration of conservatives that followed the radio broadcast.

There is also ample coverage of Daniel Cohn-Bandit, mainly on film but also on radio. There is a certain identification with Daniel but also a strong note of irony as the film records his rather doubtful con-operation with ‘Paris Match’. And there is much film of the students, the workers and the street clashes that filled the city.

Part 2 includes more material from Paris but also extended coverage of the suppression of ‘The Prague Spring’ by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Later in the film there is coverage of the funeral of Jan Palach, the student who immolated himself in protest. This leads into a series of films that deal with death and burial. These include a student who died in a protest in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1968; a suicide by a student during the protests in Paris; and a policeman killed during a demonstration in Lyon in the same period. In these passages there is none of the earlier irony but a note of quiet mourning. This seems to aim at generating a sense of loss over the upheavals.

The film ends with more footage from the home movie shot in China and then film of Mao Zedung and one of his poems. Finally we see the famous shot by the Lumière Brothers of workers leaving their factory: why I was unsure.

Whilst the ‘romantic’ does describe much of the treatment there is a continuing tone of irony. Thus at one point the commentary notes the provenance of the famous aphorism,

“Sous les pavés, la plage! (“Under the paving stones, the beach.”)”.

Was this a political slogan or an advertiser’s gimmick. At another point the commentary notes the predominance of short hair among the male protesters and compares this with the USA where the hair was longer and the events [according to the commentator] were more radical. It also notes the dominance of men in Paris 68, [not quite accurate if you watch the footage carefully].

The film offers a fascinating revisiting of these radical events. However it is structured round the personal rather than the analytical. In the end the significance of ’68 seems uncertain. I was struck by the inclusion of ‘The Prague Spring’. The other locations were significant for the director. His family came from Brazil, were living in Paris in May 1968 and his mother did visit China in 1966. But Czechoslovakia has no such relationship. I wondered, as Paris and Rio de Janeiro were protests essentially about capitalism that he felt the need to include a protest against ‘socialism’, in which case he misconstrues the significance of events in Prague.

And I would question the comparison between Paris and the USA. Currently ‘PBS America’ are broadcasting the Ken Burns Vietnam programme, in its entirety not cut as was the case with the BBC. What is apparent in the film is that while many voices supported the Liberation struggle in Vietnam the mass of the protest was against the effects of the war within the USA. Paris was more radical. One aspect of this was the influence of the radical politics in China’s Cultural Revolution. We do get footage of Mao and we do see some Maoists at work in Paris but the parallels are not really drawn out in this film.

Even so I was fascinated by the film which is definitely worth seeing. The research and selection of found footage is impressive. The structure of the film brings out interesting aspects and the editing makes both ironic and political comments. Among the footage in this film is some from the work of Chris Marker. His A Grin Without A Cat / Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977) remains the essential viewing on this period. It would be good if we could have an opportunity to revisit this film as well.

The Radical Film Network has a calendar of events for RFN 68 on its webpages. And one can sign up to be kept informed and even participate.

One comment

  1. John David Hall

    My own entry in the Radical Film Network’s celebration of all things 1968 was to attend a showing of the controversial final episode of ‘The Prisoner’ starring Patrick McGoohan in the interesting setting of the court room in Leeds Town Hall last Friday (25th May). I have attended many events at the Town Hall but never been treated to the court room before which looked like it may last have been used in 1968 when the episode was first shown to the probable stupefaction of most of the television audience at the time.
    McGoohan, as stated by the presenters of this event, was the biggest television start of the time having finished a very successful stint as John Drake in ‘Danger Man’ and then being allowed by Lord Grade to call the tune in a follow-up series that was largely written and directed by himself. The titular prisoner was never explicitly named as Drake but had come from an almost identical background in the secret service from which he was trying unsuccessfully to retire. His pension plan turned out to be abduction to a secret island where he would be interned indefinitely and given the number 6 to identify himself. The island was actually Portmeirion. Each successive episode featured a rotating cast of luminaries of the day that would take on the role of his chief opponent Number 2, including Peter Wyngarde and Leo McKern. There were echoes of ‘Danger Man’ all over this series; in fact, one episode ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ was based on an unused Danger Man storyline.
    There were probably twenty to thirty of us in attendance. When we entered the courtroom we were each given a number, which led to a few obvious jokes, but was actually a raffle ticket for a few prizes to be allocated later. The presenters were both from Radical Film and also members of the Prisoner Appreciation Society aka ‘Six of One’. Sadly, as the audience were sitting on the court benches which were rather higher than the body of the court where the presenters were assembled, the lack of a public address system required some element of stage projection that was mostly lacking. One member of Six of One was fairly audible throughout but the main speaker from them was very softly-spoken and not at all in earshot.
    It also suffered somewhat from the fact that only the final episode was shown, but the final episode had been part two of the series finale. Couple this with the fact that the last episode seemed to have been hastily-assembled and contrarily refused to answer any of the questions that had been outstanding (who is number 1 ?) and also featured a very quirky script, direction and performance led by McGoohan, the national dissatisfaction that apparently saw McGoohan go into hiding after the first broadcast is very understandable. I remember this from back in the day. What any audience member who came new to this must have thought is a mystery. After a Q&A I left, fortunately without picking up the Prisoner box set in the raffle.

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