Documentary review: Chronicle of Protest directed by Michael Chanan

A joint venture between 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 the UK. “This is a film that the ruling order will regard (I hope) as a bit dangerous, because it wholeheartedly celebrates the protest movement”, says Chanan, professor of film and video at Roehampton University, on the film’s website.
Beginning in November 2010 and ending with the 26 March 2011 TUC-organised march, Chanan provides a whistle-stop tour of the assorted resistance to the deepest public spending cuts since the second world war. Many of the rising stars of the new movement appear, from comedienne Josie Long and writer Laurie Penny to UK Uncut and the influential website False Economy. As always, the New Stateman’s Political Editor Mehdi Hasan is very impressive, as is academic Nina Power, who notes “we are fighting against an incredibly brutal, fast attempt to eradicate anything that has any social dimension, any non-profit dimension”. The trade unions and Tony Benn are featured, but this is undoubtedly a movement propelled forward by young people – from the students involved in university occupations to those creatively protesting against the tax-dodgers on our high street.
Terry Eagleton gives a particularly inspiring speech to students at the London School of Economics about the relationship between capitalism and the study of the humanities. A few days earlier Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP is heckled giving a public lecture at the same institution. “The Government is very much like a spider”, explains Penny about her involvement in the action against Hunt. “It is actually more frightened of us than we are frightened of it.”
Soundtracked by the sloganeering First of May Band and mixing Chanan’s own footage with activist videos, Chronicle of Protest makes a valiant effort to capture the politics and energy of the movement. However, being so up to date and focussing on several sites of ongoing resistance – universities, libraries, art galleries and banks – the film feels a bit of a mish-mash of images and interviews. Subjects and interviews occasionally seem rushed and arguments not fully followed through. These are perhaps unfair criticisms, as the anti-cuts movement is, by its very diverse and leaderless nature, a difficult beast to summarise and film coherently. And it is important to remember Chanan is attempting an extremely difficult task – to accurately document a movement, not from the cool perspective of decades in the future, but from right in the middle as it happens.
Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions about the outcome of the resistance to the Coalition Government’s cuts agenda, this exciting film is an impressive attempt at documenting and making sense of this tumultuous time in British history.
See more information on the film including future screenings.
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected]or!/IanJSinclair

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