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THERE’S more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes and — from the in-yer-face aggression of the Black Panthers, through to the non-violence of Martin Luther King, via some gay miners in the Welsh valleys — the 2016 Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival explores some of the diverse communities of protest from across the world and their distinct cultures of resistance.
This theme has been largely inspired by the Cultures of Resistance network created by film-maker Iara Lee as a way of supporting people wishing to take creative political action around peace and social justice issues.
Lee herself is an exemplar of activist internationalism, being a Brazilian of Korean descent who has lived and worked all over the Middle East and Africa. Her film The Cultures of Resistance (2010), explores whether creative gestures really can make a political difference.
From Mali, where the music of Tuareg resistance rises from the desert to Myanmar, where monks acting in the tradition of Gandhi take on a dictatorship, moving on to Brazil, where musicians reach out to slum kids and transform guns into guitars and ending in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the film explores how art and creativity can be the ammunition in the battle for peace and justice.
Lee’s creative-activist philosophy is based on the principle that political works of creativity are in themselves effective contributions to political discourse and necessary to inspire and motivate people to fight for progressive political change.
For individuals, political activism has to be preceded by a process of politicisation that leads to emotional identification with a cause strong enough to spur the individual into action. This politicisation stage can include many elements including personal experience, education, parental and peer influence, anecdotal knowledge and journalism and non-fiction writing of all kinds.
But it is often cultural objects like songs, films, plays and novels that organise these disparate sources of political knowledge into a coherent political response to an individual’s lived experience.
You can experience poverty, you can read about the causes of poverty and potential solutions to poverty but your poverty can still baffle you as lived experience and leave you with no mental map of escape.
But when you read, say, The Grapes of Wrath or watch the film of the book, suddenly your own experience and knowledge make sense existentially, emotionally and rationally in a way that they did not before and thus lead to hope and the willingness to take action.
Last year at the festival we screened Still Ragged: 100 Years of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (2014), a documentary about the famous novel by Robert Tressell. In the film, interviewees like Tom Watson and Ricky Tomlinson explain how this made-up story, set decades before they were even born, made sense of their experience of life in a uniquely powerful way.
But the film Cultures of Resistance shows that creative works can be powerful political acts of resistance and defiance in and of themselves and not just politicising propaganda.
The march led by Martin Luther King depicted in a film we are showing at Tolpuddle, Selma (2015), was an iconic act of defiance that had political significance way beyond the few thousand who actually took part.
Similarly, the creative actions depicted in Cultures 0f Resistance are significant political acts in and of themselves that are important contributions to the struggle for political change.
- The Tolpuddle Radical Film festival runs today and tomorrow, details: tolpuddleradicalfilm.org.uk
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