Notes in the margin: I am a camera

For the past few weeks I've been out filming the growing protest movement against the coalition government's programme of cuts. I've now been invited by the New Statesman to become its first video blogger.

I want to build a picture of the movement as it evolves, aiming for a full-length film that documents several months of struggle. The focus is on the arts and humanities, on and off campus. My method is simple: to return to Glauber Rocha's formula for Cinema Novo in Brazil, which is to go and make films with a camera in the hand and an idea in the head. The model I have in the back of my mind is Patricio Guzmán's historic documentary of the last year of Allende's Popular Unity government, The Battle of Chile. This may sound like chutzpah, but what makes it possible for
a single person to emulate that film today is the shift into digital, which has created, among other things, the video blog.

One thing that has already struck me, as I film public events, is that my camera is always only one of many. Not just that, but you can quickly see what other people have made of it, because the results are posted on the web. This is fascinating - the society of the spectacle being subjected to a prismatic reality check, which has the effect of placing any individual version in question.

It remains to be seen whether the thinking part of my brain, which tries theoretically to comprehend the nature of documentary, will keep up with the desire of my fingers, as I sit editing at the computer, to respond to what my eyes and ears discover in the footage. I have to go out and shoot, come back and edit very rapidly, post up the results, and then repeat the process every week or so. This is a situation where, to paraphrase another Brazilian, the critic José Carlos Avellar, the camera is an actor within the reality it films, and that reality is the co-author of the film.

But you, too, reading this can be a co-author: if you've any suggestions for events I ought to film, do please let me know. The whole idea, after all, is that what I manage to produce should be useful. l

Michael Chanan, professor of film at Roehampton University
Watch the video blog at:

This article first appeared in the 14 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The Middle East