Projectile Festival hits multiple targets

Newcastle's anarchist film festival Projectile returned over the Bank Holiday weekend, covering culture, class, ideas and organising. Here's a report on a small fraction of the events.

The Jewish Anarchists is a documentary from 1980 offering a bridge back to a lost culture of Yiddish speaking anarchism around the New York garment trade in the early years of the 20th century. The last survivors, around the Fraye Arbeter Shtime (Free Voice of Labor) and historian Paul Avrich. Inspirational in the way that only a sweet old lady instructing you on the appropriate way to poleaxe a scab worker can be.

Porto Marghera tells the story of an industrial zone near Venice, Italy which threw up interesting parallels with the plant in Grangemouth. It told the story of struggles there in the 1960s, industrial diseases neglected by bosses and the present day slow decline and wind-up of production. With its toxic legacy, poor environmental record and ambivalent local reputation ("when you hear a bang, no-one thinks of an earthquake [here], they think Porto Marghera has exploded"), the documentary should be of interest to Environmental Justice campaigners but offers no easy answers, making it a slightly frustrating watch.

"Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!"

If all this sounds a bit heavy going, there was Raspberry Reich on hand to provide relief; a bonkers coupling of porn and politics equally indebted to the Baader-Meinhof, John Waters and MTV. You could view it as an acute queer manifesto or as self-indulgent smut, either way it's well-made (if not acted) and bound to raise a smile (if nothing else).

More laughs came from Jean Vigo's Zero de Conduite (1933), the story of four young boys rebelling against their repressive school environment. Cited as an inspiration by the screenwriter of If, you get slapstick, satire and solidarity all in one. The final image shows our heroes marching to the sunset and freedom, arm in arm across the rooftops.

Live chat!

As well as films there were talks by Dave Douglass on 1968; Newsnight's Paul Mason on the Paris Commune and also a panel discussion on practical organising in our communities. This was a "Question Time"-style session with speakers from the Independent Working Class Association, London Coalition Against Poverty, Haringey Solidarity Group and Praxis. Questions focussed on in-depth discussion of how to make politics / ideas relevant and more used in working class communities. Strong emerging themes were the need to focus on everyday concerns above abstract issues; building community strength by working with not for people; the importance of building confidence through victories, no matter how small. The panel didn't fudge the difficult question of how to deal with anti-social elements causing problems for a community, whether those be drug dealers, youths or prostitution. They emphasised empowering communities to deal with situations, pointing out some behaviours as anti-working class and damaging to community cohesion. Some audience members felt that this was anti-libertarian; but panelists re-posed the issue as "whose side are you on?"

Dave Douglass's talk, A Geordie Perspective on May '68 and after, provided a lively insight into the upheavals 40 years ago. The energy evoked was a far cry from the pious pronouncements from some commentators, giving a feel for the excitement, culture clash and possibility of those times. He began with a breathless description of the Battle of Grosvenor Square in November 1968, where angry demonstrators came within yards of torching London's US embassy. He pinpoints this as a moment when the protests turned (potentially) revolutionary, a fracturing of the post-war consensus where if you had a peaceful protest, the government would change policy. He pointed out that a more recent example of this consensus came in the Labour government's (not unprecedented) dismissal of the million-plus anti-war marchers in March 2003. When the tactic no longer works, it's time to try something new. That's what happened in the optimism of the 1960s, but who knows from what quarter it will return.

This is only a part of the ambitious programme offered by the festival, much of which was recorded and hopefully will be made widely available. With live music on all three nights and reasonably-priced local ale on tap, the discussions and ideas carried on with the dancing. Let's see how they top this next year...

Comments

Re: Projectile Festival hits multiple targets

By O

I was mostly impressed by Projectile and found it engaging and interesting. However, I felt a number of pretty major issues were left out, with an almost dogmatic emphasis on class issues. While these are issues of upmost importance and anarchist organising is by far the most effective way to tackle these, issues such as sexism and gender politics, and the environment were given as much attention as a film right at the end and a brief climate camp meeting, respectively. I really think it important that we as anarchists take on all issues without creating a hierarchy of importance and hence time devoted to them, by focusing exclusively on, say, class struggle. A diversity of issues (and hence films and discussions) can never be a bad thing, just like a diversity of tactics!

On a more logistical note, food was a bit of an issue which meant that Morrisons was pretty much the only option, unless you could afford 6 pasties a day (which were good)! I think its important to provide healthy, cheap and vegan food at this kind of event, so people don't have to shop at supermarkets, or alternatively provide information on where people can go to eat who don't know the town.

Had a great time though and well done to the organisers, see you next year!

Class and other issues

By CH

Got to disagree with you on the class thing. I thought the organisers did a good job of covering "other" issues; the curators' using the perspective of class makes for a more distinctive festival. An example:

The Porto Marghera film was the most nuanced film about environmental issues I've seen for a while. The site's a shithole, but people work there, have suffered from it, and are now being thrown onto the scrapheap. Without the focus on the workers' point of view the film would've been another "here's a nasty polluting factory," which gets cinematically old after a while.

The festival's plainly coming from a class struggle perspective, but it is covering a range of issues. I think the issues you highlight are more frequently dealt with (in radical circles if not the mainstream) than class.

I'd also suggest that gender and environment issues need to be at the heart of community activism (or vice versa) rather than it being tret as a separate issue only of interest to "class struggle" anarchists.

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