2015 Festival

This year, the festival is dedicated to celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘The First Festival of British Independent Cinema’, which took place at the Arnolfini in 1975. Organised by the filmmaker, writer, curator and dramatist, David Hopkins (1940-2004), the 1975 festival was a landmark event in the history of alternative film in Britain, exhibiting overtly political film alongside avant-garde and experimental work on everything from 35mm and super-8 to multiscreen video, with the express intention of encouraging a vibrant ‘independent’ film culture through the ‘cross fertilisation’ of different forms, approaches and intentions.


Blacks Brittanica (1978) and Stop and Search (2015) followed by Q+A with director Colin Prescod.

Blacks Brittanica was absent from the original 1975 programme (not least because it wasn’t made for another three years) but we start the festival with this curatorial intervention for three reasons: first, the original programme contained films almost exclusively by and about white people, despite the continued centrality of race (and racism) in political and social life. Second, Blacks Brittanica has just been re-released on DVD, so this event constitutes opportunity to view this little-seen film on the big screen.

Originally rejected for being too radical by its commissioning TV channel, Boston’s WGBH, Blacks Britannica documents the experience of Britain’s black community in the 1970s. Offering a sharp analysis of both state and street racism, as well recording the grass-roots organising which emerged to confront it, this screening is an opportunity to see this newly reissued landmark piece of political filmmaking.

Contemporary political shorts.

This event explores the possibility for real political change in Britain and further afield, showcasing short films about the rise of parties on the left in Europe and foregrounding austerity and climate change as urgent political concerns. These contemporary political shorts highlight the need for radical media production in the face of a dearth of mainstream commitment to communicating the true urgency of environmental, economic and political realities in our early twenty first century.

Derek Jarman early short films, with speaker tbc.

Derek Jarman is still one of the most admired British artists of the late twentieth century. A renowned filmmaker, painter, poet and gay activist, he is most famous for the feature length films he wrote and directed in the late 70s and 80s.  In the early 70s he experimented with film with a series of rarely seen films shot in Super 8. Jarman made more than forty films in Super 8 that, while sharing some motifs and characteristics with his later work, form a distinct body of work. As Ed Halter describes them, they are ‘more improvisatory, often non-narrative, replete with arcane symbolism, and deeply invested in the material, non-representational qualities of the image’.  


Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons (1975), followed by Q+A with director Laura Mulvey.

Described by Jonathan Rosenbaum as a ‘theoretical do-it-yourself kit’, Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons is the first of six films made by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, in which the boundaries of film language and its ability to articulate political ideas are pushed to the edge. A feminist essay in five sections that ranges from manipulated newsreel to a Wonder Woman comic, the film explores the iconography of woman as warrior and its relation to patriarchal rule.

Starting to Happen: A discussion screening with community filmmaker, Ed Webb-Ingall.

Starting to Happen was made by community film group, Liberation Films, in 1974, and shows what happened when they worked with a group of residents in Balham, South London, using video equipment to record local protests for social change. It was subsequently shown on BBC2 with a critical discussion with participants, which will also be screened in this session. The screenings will be followed by a discussion asking what it means to screen political films now, and to seek to locate the latent political potential in historical practices and archival material.

The Amazing Equal Pay Show (London Women’s Film Group, 1974), speaker tbc.

The London Women’s Film Group (LWFG) was formed in 1972, with the aim of putting into practice the tenets of feminist film theory. Working collectively (swapping roles of camera operator, lighting, sound etc.), the group made films that dealt with the lives of working-class women. The Amazing Equal Pay Show, a rarely screened classic of 1970s radical filmmaking, is as experimental as it is politically engaged. Blurring the boundaries of a variety of genres, the film is an angry, funny exposition on the place of women in capitalist society.

The Miners’ Film (1974, Cinema Action) and selected work by Reel News, followed by Q+A with Steve Sprung (Cinema Action) and Shaun Dey (Reel News).

Told in their own words, Cinema Action’s 1974 film depicts the experiences of the miners and their families throughout  the successful strike which defeated Ted Heath’s Tory government. More than that, the filmmakers sensitively convey their engagement with the bigger issues at stake at the time and the wider challenges to secure a fairer and more equal society for working people.

Trace and Labour in Structural/Materialism: Then and Now.

A panel discussion chaired by Bristol Experimental and Expanded Film (BEEF), with screenings of historical and contemporary works. We will debate how the radical political gesture of British Structural/Materialism of the 1960s and ‘70s might be reframed in a contemporary context, and will consider the legacy of these early films in a digital world. The event will be accompanied by a screening of films by Guy Sherwin and Lis Rhodes alongside contemporary works by BEEF members Stephen Cornford, Louisa Fairclough, and Vicky Smith. These recent works re-examine the autonomy of film practice that was central to ‘70s  Structural/Materialism to insist upon the situated and particularised body of the filmmaker.