Thursday, June 12, 2008

Undercurrents of protest put on view by Wales' video festival campaigners

This is an article from last years paper about our festival

Nov 27 2006 Staff Reporter, Western Mail

IN a narrow street in Swansea's docklands, behind Morgan's luxury hotel, a revolution is taking place inside the Old Telephone Exchange.

And the revolutionaries, or Undercurrents as they call themselves, want to recruit you to the struggle.

"Promoting non-violent direct action in order to bring about environmental and social change using the media - that's our aim," said veteran video activist Paul O'Connor - and that's a big task.

Set up in 1993, Undercurrents next week hosts its annual international political video festival, Beyond TV, in Swansea.

Open to all, the festival seeks to turn us into video campaigners and will offer inspiration and guidelines to anyone who wants to project a different view of the world from that usually offered.

The Old Telephone Exchange seems an appropriate home for a group that aims to challenge how we currently receive our news.

Undercurrents shares its headquarters with a mixture of other educational and environmental bodies, so first you must pick your way through a communal kitchen and boxes of organic vegetables to reach them.

Their cramped but tidy office is packed with weapons of revolt - a number of cameras hang from pegs, shelves are stocked with campaigning DVDs and there are neat piles of the group's small orange revolutionary manifesto.

The Video Activist Handbook was written by founder member Thomas Harding and sets out tactics to be used by members.

It calls the camcorder a powerful political instrument and defines an adherent to the cause as "someone who uses video as a tool to bring about social justice and environmental protection".

The group began in London, campaigning against the Criminal Justice Bill, which they saw as an attack on raves and squatters whilst also limiting the right to protest.

But Undercurrents soon found themselves working with a whole range of marginalised people unable to get their voice heard through established media channels.

In the past, they have worked with Romany groups and protesters against new road construction.

Over the years, they argue, new media technology has made it easier to present such alternative voices.

"The camcorder is accessible to ordinary people who wouldn't have had a chance to make programmes in the past," said Helen Iles.

"And now, for example, we have a solar pack adapted to power cameras and laptops so that we can be ecologically friendly and operate in the field more easily.

"We're at the cutting edge of these changes."

Undercurrents has the dual role of making programmes for campaigns and teaching groups the skills to make their own output.

Whether Welsh peace campaigners, eco-villagers in Pembrokeshire, or Palestinian farmers protesting in the Gaza strip, they have all been helped by this charity.

However, mainstream media outlets have frequently been loathe to show this subversive material.

Undercurrents have been forced to seek alternative distribution methods and, once again, new technology has come to their aid.

The digital revolution in television has meant the growth of numerous small stations, such as the 'Community Channel', where their material can be aired.

Whilst, even more radically, material can be distributed via the internet.

But by using a more old-fashioned technique, they have returned to the early days of the film industry by taking their own cinema out to the people.

"We regularly put up a screen in a muddy field during a music festival but our most exotic location to date was in an old Army tent by a waterfall in Iceland," said Helen.

Undercurrents have developed a screening policy to reel in the punters as well. Firstly, they hit them with radical animation or pop videos by rap artists before introducing the heavier political material.

They describe themselves as vagabonds and are currently working to convert an old caravan for their travelling film shows.

By now, the small office is packed with people.

The preparations for the Beyond TV Festival are going on apace. Sessions will include screenings of animation and documentaries on the oil industry, consumerism and Palestine - to name but a few.

Whatever the topic it will be a colourful and lively debate - and they're keen to recruit you to the struggle.

"All people need is a story they want to tell and plenty of enthusiasm," said Helen. "We'll work with them and teach them the skills."

Poor old Lenin had to make do with a hand-cranked printing press - these revolutionaries have more modern weapons. And they're not afraid to use them!

For more information on the Beyond TV International Political Video Conference, call Undercurrents on 01792 455900, or visit www.undercurrents.org/beyondtv

No comments: