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New film tells the story of the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass

PETER LAZENBY talks to film-maker Alan Story about the famous act of civil disobedience which won working people the right to roam the countryside

THE making of the next series of TV homage to monarchy The Crown will cost £100 million.

The making of Mass Trespass by Sheffield-based film co-operative WellRedFilms cost £350. 

Alan Story, a member of the co-operative, says that was to pay union rates to two actors who appear in it briefly in the parts of Benny Rothman, the Manchester communist who led the 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire’s Peak District, and the the judge who sent Rothman to prison for four months for doing so, along with four other young men.

All the others involved in the production — camera, sound, editing and the rest — are volunteers.

The team has produced around 40, mainly short, videos on a range of social and political issues, of which Mass Trespass is the latest.

The co-operative describes itself as “a recently formed (2015) UK network of radical videographers and activists who make and distribute progressive videos.

“As our name implies, we try to make anti-capitalist, anti-racist, pro-environmentalist, pro-hope, etc … and pro-technical quality videos.”

Mass Trespass, which is released online today, certainly fits in with the team’s ethos. The 20-minute film doesn’t tell only the story of how Rothman and around 400 ramblers from industrial Manchester and Sheffield defied gamekeepers and the police to walk as free people on the moors and hills of Derbyshire’s Peak District for their recreation.

It’s about now. It’s about the attempted industrialisation of the countryside for profit by the likes of fracking firms.

The film could not be more timely. Today is the deadline for public “consultations” on government proposals to change planning laws with the aim of forcing planning authorities — local councils — to take a “positive view” when fracking firms apply for planning permission to drill deep into the Earth’s surface, pump in a toxic mixture of chemicals, sand and water to shatter layers of shale to release profitable gas.

The government has already overruled local councils that have refused planning permission to fracking firms — Preston New Road site in Lancashire, for example.

Now the Tories plan to force councils to give planning permission whether they want to or not.

The film’s story of the Kinder Scout mass trespass is intertwined with interviews with current-day environmental campaigners and other resisters.

It records how the working-class ramblers’ defiance of the law led later to the creation of Britain’s national parks, including Derbyshire’s Peak District where the mass trespass took place, and in 2000 to the Countryside Rights of Way Act which became known as the “right to roam.”

But the film, which is punctuated in parts by folk singer Ewan MacColl singing one of his most famous songs, I’m A Rambler, also rightly warns how those rights are under threat today.

Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society praises Rothman and the mass trespassers in the film but she goes further, saying: “They were brave people, but the rights are not complete by any means and there are acres and acres of heath and downland where we still have no right to go.

“And we are suffering a new form of enclosures movement. Green open spaces are being developed and are disappearing and people’s recreational land is being stolen from them. People need to fight back and defend the places they hold dear.”

Fighting back is a repeated theme in the film.
One of the mainstays of WellRedFilms is Canadian socialist Alan Story, who lives in Sheffield.

He believes the example of civil disobedience set by Rothman and the other mass trespassers should be an example to a new generation today.

“Sadly a lot of young people do not know about Benny Rothman and the working-class people and what they did,” he said. “They finally got the national parks and eventually the right to roam.

“And we think it’s important to get a message to young people today. Don’t rely on the courts. Don’t count on government. Rely on yourselves. Build your own movements in a democratic fashion. Take direct action.”

The direct action message is repeated in a contribution in the film from a Greenpeace activist who warns of the dangers to the countryside today and asks: “What are you going to do about it?”

The film does not mention the significant fact that Rothman was a member of the Communist Party.

When I ask Story why this was the case, he says: “In the part where he is in court, the judge says Rothman was found to have a work by Lenin in his pocket and the Daily Worker was being sold. I think people will get the message.”

I hope he’s right.

The film’s brief re-enactment of Rothman’s appearance in court quotes Rothman’s words, which are as inspirational today as they were more than 80 years ago. Indeed it was the court case, rather than the act of mass trespass, that focused nationwide attention on the denial to workers of access to the countryside.

Rothman said: “We ramblers, after a hard week’s work in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling for relaxation, a breath of fresh air, but we find, when we go out, that the finest rambling country is closed to us, just because certain individuals wish to shoot for 10 days a year.

“Our demonstration on April 24 was a peaceful demonstration to gain support for our contention of the right of access to mountains.”

For me this was relevant to today in the area in which I live, the Calder Valley in the Yorkshire Pennines, where landowners annually burn off the natural vegetation of moorlands above our communities to make them suitable for breeding grouse for shooting parties.

The burning also causes water run-off during downpours which has contributed to floods that have repeatedly devastated our communities.

Story mocks the forthcoming nuptials involving the Windsor family, saying: “Benny Rothman achieved more with what he did than Prince Harry will achieve in a lifetime.”

He and his team are on the lookout for more film-makers.

The group says: “We are recruiting other radical videographers, activists who want to learn to make videos … and activists who want to help as organisers. We especially welcome women, people of colour and younger people.

“If you wish to learn more about WellRedFilms and/or if you want to suggest a subject for a video — and especially if you want to help make it! — our address is: [email protected].”

You can watch Mass Trespass online at vimeo.com/267620124.

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