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The Carnival of Protest

September 14, 2011 Reviews No Comments

from The Student Journals


In his study “Rabelais and His World,” literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin writes of carnival as a “temporary suspension… of hierarchical rank [which creates] a special type of communication impossible in everyday life.” Bahktin’s influential theory of the carnivalesque seems to leave traces all over the very public demonstrations against cuts to government spending, as painstakingly catalogued in this film by Michael Chanan, which took place throughout late 2010 and early 2011. The overturning of the established order and the cry for democracy that spurred these protests, as well as utopian demands for a just society manifested in the realism of ordered chaos inflicted on urban centres, seems to be a replay of the same ideas a Russian thinker was writing about some sixty years ago.

In its own carnivalesque way, “Chronicle of Protest” too eschews some of the expectations of a documentary film. The finished project has no voice-over narrator: instead it is essentially a montage of newsreel, police footage, activist home video and vox-pops, all strung together with words that occasionally flash across the screen. The narrative, at once disjointed and yet unified by the sung refrain of “Society is too big to fail” (a mockingly ironical reworking of the now-clichéd phrase applied to bloated banks), suggests the simultaneous unity and disunity that characterised the protests: all those involved shared a common message, but there were distinct ways of communicating that message. Clips of the few students who tarnished the image of millions of peaceful protestors through their actions, and who yet came to symbolise the apparent degeneracy of the entirety of modern British youth, are an eerie precursor to the much more magnified destruction that would occur in the same city a few months later. Indeed, the vociferous but coolly measured way that the vast majority of the people captured in this film address their concerns is in striking contrast to the relentless annihilation of communities, both socially and physically, this August. One student, who will forever remain anonymous, declaims: “Protest is saying that I disagree with something; resistance is saying that I will not let this happen.” Equally arresting is the colourful multitude of non-violent protest methods: a young woman’s stand-up routine in a Barclays bank; the call-and-response chants of a group on the street; the beating of drums on the civilian warpath.

Chanan’s real achievement in this film, though, is to situate these students’ era of discontent within wider contexts, both past and present. Another literary academic, Terry Eagleton, draws parallels to the unrest in the 1960s when “the academia became the catalyst for a much wider social movement,” while other connections are made to the credit crisis, Egypt, Bahrain and Bristol, and from the rather triumphantly named University of Strategic Optimism to an ordinary library on the fringes of London. Through a collection of interviews, you get the sense that right-wing politics as symbolised in this country by the Conservative Party is increasingly being associated with “ignorance of the reality of the situation [the electorate] is in,” and that the Liberal Democrat contingent, far from being a moderating force, have simply accepted the new status quo: students who voted Lib Dem in the last election constantly speak of being “betrayed” by the party. One older woman complains about the “dishonesty” of the government’s commissioned research into people’s happiness when “the sort of things that make people happy [are merely] being able to go to your library and get some books and CDs.” Though ostensibly Chanan tries to include a variety of voices, I did notice when I watched the film that most of the interviewees were white: besides some black singers, only the impassioned Mehdi Hasan stands out as an important commentator of ethnic origin. Hasan, to his credit, shows thought and restraint for a man whose unnecessarily violent assault on Michael Heseltine on the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ infuriated this viewer.

From a technical standpoint, the soundtrack is a bit iffy at times, and the lack of subtitles is occasionally frustrating. But judging the film alone, as a catalogue of the various schemes that took place to combat the threats to higher education in the coming decades, it largely works. Where it fails, however, is to say anything really new or challenging: Chanan does not develop his thesis to include meaningful debate around its implications. How can we really reconcile the threat of sovereign debt default and the need to balance our budgets with the imperative to preserve a system of higher education that is equitable, accessible and – above all – adequately fulfilling? Have the demonstrations – in the context of a wider post-credit crunch culture where economics has become a political football – achieved anything at all? Maybe I’m expecting too much from a “chronicle of protest,” not an “essay on protest.”

Regardless, the ultimate power of “Chronicle of Protest” lies at its climax, when the images of millions of chanting, waving, placard-holding citizens that throng the capital resemble a gigantic literal carnival. The mostly silent crowd come to speak for themselves, so much so that you really do want to stand up and join them. Unfettered by narrative intrusion, the film perfectly captures the zeitgeist of its period. At that ‘Question Time’ debate shortly after the new coalition government was elected, Michael Heseltine warned the incumbent administration would be “deeply unpopular”. Chanan’s timely work reaffirms how wrong I wish he could have been.

Chronicle of Protest is available on DVD for £6 from the New Statesman website.


The history of our movement against cuts (so far)

July 13, 2011 Reviews No Comments

Chronicle of Protest – The history of our movement against cuts (so far)

by Patrick Ward

Socialist Worker

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much has gone on over the past eight months.

This documentary is a celebration of the anti-cuts movement in Britain. It charts the movement from the student protests of late last year through to the huge 26 March TUC demonstration.

Director Michael Chanan uses footage from video blogs, TV news and activist media to paint a picture of the breadth of resistance to the cuts, and reflects some of the debates within the movement on how to resist and what alternatives are on offer.

The film tries to do a lot. We see everything from the media’s manipulation of the student protests, to the BBC’s Paul Mason giving a crash course in the financial crisis. We also get a look at the occupation of libraries and the arrival of the Arab uprisings which fed inspiration into the movement.

The likes of Michael Rosen, Terry Eagleton, Josie Long and Nina Power also offer their take on the struggle.

Having taken such a wide ranging subject matter, it’s inevitable some things get left out. But it would have been good to see some more of how the big protests came about. Grassroots campaigns such as Education Activist Network don’t really get a mention, while the organisational power of Twitter gets too much attention.

And I’m not sure it really reflects the young, working class dynamism which was so apparent on the demos. Lots of white, middle aged academics are interviewed at length. The soundtrack also seems to miss the mood—it would have been nice to see some of the dubstep and hip-hop, which for me was far more symbolic of the creativity thrown up by the campaigns.

But otherwise this is a useful record of the story so far, and what we can hope is only the beginning of our campaign of resistance.


‘Intelligent and highly watchable’: Sight and Sound

May 31, 2011 News, Reviews No Comments

East End Film Festival
London, UK
May 2011
Frances Morgan

Emma-Louise Williams’ Under the Cranes, which premiered to a capacity audience at Dalston’s Rio Cinema, featured the work of [a] long-time resident, Michael Rosen, whose documentary play Hackney Voices steered this engaging, gentle, slightly dreamlike documentary… Rosen also appears in Michael Chanan’s Chronicle of Protest, extolling the revolutionary potential of Shakespeare. … Continue Reading

Review at Nuke’s World

May 1, 2011 Reviews No Comments

A review at Nuke’s World:

Today at 1545 local time, Chronicle of Protest, a film directed by Michael Chanan premiered at The Rio Cinema, Dalston, as part of the East End Film Festival.

On seeing its inclusion, I was heartened fearing a lack of films commentating on the events which have engulfed the capital over the past year. And so, looking forward to it I took up my seat, coffee in hand.

A note on the slightly deceptive title; this film chronicles recent protests, and is not literally a history lessons.

Depicting familiar scenes of the student protests, ukuncut’s “creative civil disobedience” and that of march26, the film does little to add to the trove of footage that floats about cyber-space.

It stands up by the inclusion of interviews. Not those given by public figures, who tend to recite recycled rhetoric (the exception being Michael Rosen), but by those delivered by normal people. Those folk effected by the closure of their local library, those students and lectures effected by the higher education squeeze, those nurses facing redundancies due to NHS reforms.

Other then that, I didn’t see to much to scream about. Luckily enough, Chanan had the foresight to make these interview pieces the driving force of the film and so they constitute a great majority of the film.

During the subsequent question & answer session a critic at the back voiced his dissatisfaction of the film being a little soft, [presumably upset with it’s lack of call to arms] stating “its our job to make it happen.” [referring to the collapse of the government.]

I’m reluctant to say this film is a missed opportunity. I’m a strong advocate of quality output, and in this respect the film falls short. In a world in which we are bombarded with the “polished output of MTV”, jittery hose-pipe viewing cannot compete, and is more suited to the world of youtube.

Chanan shed light on the films inception, stemming from a series of blog post and this goes someway to explaining, if not excusing, the at times poor quality footage.

I suppose the question it raises is: is there a place for a film which occupies the middle ground. One which doesn’t directly challenge the state propaganda. There is certainly the case for fighting fire-with-fire, but this film more falls within the middle-ground bracket, quietly sowing the seeds of resistance. For those in London, it may not offer anything radically new, but it does have the potential to inform those a little more removed. Whether it ever reaches them is another question.


Source: Nurks World | Review: Chronicle of Protest
Address : http://nurksworld.tumblr.com/post/5079368646/review-chronicle-of-protest

Clarion calls for activism

April 27, 2011 News, Reviews No Comments

Morning Star

Clarion calls for activism

Chronicle of Protest (directed by Michael Chanan)
Wednesday 27 April 2011
by Ian Sinclair

A joint venture between the New Statesman magazine and Roehampton University, Michael Chanan’s Chronicle of Protest is the first documentary to look at the burgeoning anti-cuts movement in Britain.

It’s a film that Chanan hopes will be viewed as “a bit dangerous” by the ruling order because of its wholehearted celebration of the protest movement. … Continue Reading

Gilbey on Film: Chronicle of Protest, previewed

April 27, 2011 News, Reviews No Comments

Gilbey on Film: Chronicle of Protest, previewed
New Statesman Cultural Capital
by Ryan Gilbey – 27 April 2011 11:43

Activist video is providing a corrective to the mainstream media –
but nothing beats the power of a cinema screen.

“One of the qualities I love about cinema is its assertiveness: it’s so much harder to overrule or ignore a film when it’s on a cinema screen, whether that screen is in the Grand Palais in Cannes or the Slough Cineworld, than when it’s on television, laptop or iPod. I was impressed when I watched Chronicle of Protest, the omnibus edition of Michael Chanan’s attentive video blogs for the NS, on DVD this week. But its real power will become apparent, I suspect, only when it is screened in a cinema, as it will be this Saturday as part of the East End Film Festival.”

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