Power in Community Cinema

Kate Fahy, 07/05/20

This time last year I was losing my mind writing my Master’s dissertation about community cinema and counterpublic formation, and planning my first screening in Bristol of Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses on 16mm print. I’m fully in love with community cinema, and the power that it holds – for me, for us, and for the greater good (the greater goooood). I re-read my dissertation the other day, and wanted to share some points and thoughts that I think reflect the aims, ambitions, and passions that me and Daniella share, and that translate and echo through our project Vadí? Nevadí.

To really understand the formula and ambitions of community cinema today, it’s vital to go back to the roots. So let’s rewind a few decades to the 1960s and go south to Argentina. Argentinian Militant cinema (a more politically focused strand of the Latin American Third Cinema movement) was orchestrating clandestine cinema screenings of highly political films that explicitly opposed the country’s existing oppressive regime. Such films included La Hora de los Hornos (dir. Octavio Getino, Fernando Solanas, 1968). The organisers and attendees of the screenings faced massive risk of persecution, violence, and even death if discovered – so why the fuck do it, right?

My most and least favourite phrase is “but it’s just a film”. It’s my least favourite because it really pisses me off, but it’s my most favourite because my belly gets fire-y and I can let it loose. Leaders of the Militant cinema, like Getino and Solanas saw cinema as an important weapon and tool in the process of liberation. They encouraged active participation from audience members in the form of pamphlets, introductions, and most importantly, post-screening discussions. Their screenings intended to have transformative impact on their audiences, and thus onto wider society. Through clandestine screenings, often in warehouses inciting the working class to rise up, they advocated alternative forms of film distribution and exhibition.

The late 1960s saw global uprisings in response to consistent oppression, discrimination, and the squashing of identities by dominant culture (ie. Bourgeois white, cis, heteropatriarchy). Identity politics were widespread, and there started to be a cultural shift reflected in film programming, in that film festivals started to become more politically engaged and driven, and there was a growth of alternative identity-based film festivals. These festivals acted as a sort of cultural intervention that sought societal change and followed the formula of encouraging active participation. Marginalised communities mobilised with the desire for network formation, and the enablement of an open and discursive space in which they could confront issues and freely defy dominant conventions.

A slice of history gives an understanding of the formula and deeply imbedded aims and purpose of politically driven programming and community cinema today. But there are also contemporary issues that feed into DIY culture and film programming. I am really drawn to the issue of space. Space is banal – it is just there. But at the same time, it is huge – it can be gendered, sexed, raced, cultured, open, private, exclusive, free, and a whole lot more.

We live in the sometimes truly disturbing era of neo-liberal capitalism in which space is ultimately money. Cultural spaces across the country and across the world are being bought and privatised on a huge scale. Space is property, capital, and investment to the gains of the rich, and the loss of those to whom it originally belonged and held solace. The reclamation of space thus becomes political (as it also was for Militant cinema). DIY cinema takes space back and gives it identity, and purpose. DIY screenings are for the most part non-profit. We hope that Vadí? Nevadí screenings will always be free. I love the idea that the organisers and attendees of politicaly-driven screenings in reclaimed spaces are activists. Everything about them is oppositional – to capitalism in formation, to societal ‘norms’ in content. We like to experiment, push boundaries, showcase that which is not being showcased, and most importantly create space for conversations.

Vadí Nevadí has a lot of room to grow, and we hope that we can nurture a space and community that is really powerful. We want to represent, celebrate, connect with, and engage marginalised communities. We are exploring both physical and digital space, and the potential of discussion, unity, and exploration, that both of these entities hold. Cinema is powerful, as so is each of us.


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