Gilbey on Film: Cinemagoers of the world unite!

The Bread and Roses film festival kicks off today.

Cinemagoers of a revolutionary inclination rejoice! Cannes may already be creeping into media coverage a full fortnight before the festival begins, but Londoners can turn their attention instead to a different festival which kicks off today, its principles unlikely to be diluted by flashbulbs and red carpets. Not only that but it’s free (well, lots of it is, anyway). The Bread and Roses Film Festival marks the centenary of the 1912 textile workers strike. There will be screenings held across London, some even at the Clapham Common bandstand. (A tip: when you study the BBC’s five-day weather forecast, try not to think of the blue pearl dropping from the black cloud on each day as a splodge of rain, but rather a tear shed poignantly in recognition of the workers’ struggle. Also: pack a brolly.)

Here’s why it’s all going down:

The centenary of the 1912 strikes marks a window of opportunity to interrogate through film depictions and representations of capitalism, workers’ rights particularly female worker’s rights, strikes, social activism and immigration, debates and issues that are very much alive, if not the defining topics, of 2012. The festival was conceived to attract new and underrepresented audiences to film—groups, communities, and individuals that otherwise do not have access to seek out or afford access to such films… All community hosted screenings are free to attend allowing audiences normally economically marginalised from cinemas to be able to access films in their local community.

You can read more on the festival website. There’s an impressive menu of screenings and discussions. Eisenstein’s Strike will be shown with the accompaniment of a live score by The Cabinet of Living Cinema, whose repertoire includes Russian and Soviet folk and classical music rendered with a bewildering array of instruments which may or may not include a kitchen sink. A screening of Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses, about a Los Angeles cleaners’ uprising, will be followed by a Q&A with his producer, Rebecca O’Brien. Other influential figures speaking at the festival include Kim Longinotto and Nick Broomfield.  

Also in London next week, and unconnected with the Bread & Roses festival, is a free screening of Mathieu Kassovitz’s dynamic 1995 banlieue-set thriller La Haine, presented by the very wonderful Other Cinema, and accompanied by Asian Dub Foundation’s live score. The key detail here is that the screening takes place at the Broadwater Farm Estate community centre in Tottenham, North London. There will be further screenings of the movie in London and Paris, but Tottenham, where last summer’s riots began, is a particularly apposite venue for this film about the urban unrest following police brutality. Or is it too literal a venue? The Other Cinema has expressed a desire to screen movies such as Casablanca and Jules et Jim on the estate in the future—but should they have started there? La Haine is a good hook, and a fine film, but imagine screening something jazzy and colourful instead— Zazie Dans La Metro or Spirited Away or the mad Thai western Tears of the Black Tiger. What do you reckon?

Or, if jazzy isn’t your bag, then some Ken Loach: wouldn’t he go down well? Kes is the way into cinema for a lot of young people; it was one of mine. Or, if you think Larky Loach would go down better, Looking For Eric would be a rousing choice. I haven’t seen his forthcoming film, The Angels’ Share, which opens in the UK in June, but I hear it has a comic bent. They could have premiered it at Broadwater Farm if it wasn’t already receiving its grand unveiling at, erm . . . Cannes.  

Ken Loach (Photo: Getty Images)

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war