From the TUC

Labour film festivals: A growing movement

20 Oct 2011, By

The first ever conference of labour film festival organisers took place in Washington last week, trying to kick start a worldwide labour film festival movement. The number of organisers attending from across the globe was a testament to the growing interest in this area of film-making.

Although these films do not formally constitute a distinct cinematic genre, it is easy to imagine that they could. Labour films, be they documentary, feature film or cinema shorts, are about celebrating social commitment through the medium of film, and the festivals help show the diversity and complexity of film’s treatment of labour and working people, both locally and globally. The films tell entertaining and heartfelt stories of working people that are as vital for us to see today as ever before.

It was quite something listening to the peoples stories of organising labour film festivals. With projects running across North America and Europe, the level of commitment and creativity on display is really uplifting.

Most of the people at the event had grown out of the labour movement, so were fledgling navigators through the film industry. I was there because of my interest in promoting labour movement films in the UK, and my current project to set up a labour cinema Video-on-Demand channel.

The conference was organised by Chris Garlock who runs the Washington DC Labor Film Festival, and has done for the last 12 years, having been inspired by his father John Garlock, who is, by all accounts, the grandfather of labor film fests, having run the Rochester (NYC) Labor Film Festival for 22 years now.

The festivals represented at the conference were at very differing levels of experience, new people and new events just getting started, as well as organisers of festivals with a long and rich history, and people starting to get interested in online initiatives.

There were countries with a strong labor film festival movement that were not able to attend, including South Africa, Korea and Turkey. In fact Turkey hosts the largest such festival anywhere, so there’s definitely a growing movement around these types of films, which is very exciting.

Highlighting labour issues through film is becoming more and more important, especially in the current economic climate where young people are struggling to get an education and to find jobs, and where working people’s communities and work environments are being threatened.  Whilst the conference was taking place, news was rolling in of protests on Wall Street, in London, and across the world. This global sense of injustice was all around us.

In the evening we attended the Washington DC Labour Film Festival, which was running at the same time as the conference. I watched the harrowing film ‘Whistleblower’, but was too jet-lagged to watch the sci-fi film ‘Moon’.

The DC event is a great inspiration for the wider movement. I loved the beautifully designed festival graphics. Each year Chris collaborates with graphic artists to create these designs, I love that kind of thing.

So inspired was I that I’ve returned to the UK, with a real energy to explore the idea of setting up of a long overdue London Labour Film Festival. So watch this space, and do get in touch if you’re interested in helping out.

GUEST POST: Anna Burton runs a film production, training and digital media co-op, working particularly in the area of community, union and charity campaigning. Prior to setting up her new company Neontetra Films, Anna gained over 11 years experience working with and for trade unions and non-profit groups, including unionlearn.