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.
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...