London Labour Film Festival: An Interview with the Director.
The Festival is already running & ends on 15th Sept.

The inaugural London Labour Film Festival promises 18 Films over three days at London’s Prince Charles Cinema. But it’s whole lot more than that as Willow Colios found out when he spoke to Anna Burton, the Director of the festival this week.

LTW: Perhaps we should begin with how the London Festival fits in with others worldwide?

Anna Burton: The London Labour Film Festival is in its first year and we are joining a global movement of Labour film festivals from across the world. It’s quite pronounced in the US with big festivals in Washington, New York and San Francisco. Also countries like Turkey and South Africa have Labour film festivals, so we are excited to be joining them. We’re having an ambitious first year with 18 films in a central location and we are hoping to be welcoming quite a broad audience.

Did you work with the organisers of the other Labour Film festivals to choose the 18 films? 

I went to the first ever conference of Labour film festival organisers last year in Washington and I’m going again in October. To share practices, share films, the experience of how we do it and to offer each other support.

I’ve had a lot of help in selecting the films from experts in the field. John Garlock who’s run the longest running Labour Film Festival , The Rochester Film series in New York City which has been going for 23 years. He knows a lot about Labour cinema and what works in terms of making sure we have a cross section. Something for everybody really. It was him that suggested that we put a zombie movie in. We were also helped by a guy called Tom Zaniello who is also from the states, where these festivals are particularly successful.

What’s the ethos behind the festival? It’s supported by trade unions and people in this country, when they think of Labour, may immediately think of the Labour party but is it actually more that each film somehow involves working people?

All the films are linked to working people and The idea of the film festival is to celebrate working people. I think for the Labour movement in particular to be seen in a really positive way. Film is a great way to entertain people but it’s also to educate people and to make people think in a different way about things, about the world that they’re living in.

But it’s not ramming ideas down people’s throats. I mean there are films like Made in Dagenham perhaps that are overtly about work, whereas there are films like Moon in the festival that are science fiction. How do they all fit in? 

Tom Zaniello has put together a description in the festival program about how you select a Labour film. They are very broad categories. They could be about unionised workers or workers not represented by unions. Or they can be just about workers who are struggling or having difficulties in life. A lot of the films can make you feel quite angry or very sad. They are very emotional films. You’ve got films like Working Man’s Death which are looking at harsh conditions, the extremes that people will go to earn a living in countries across the world. Michael Glawogger’s, (Austrian Director of Working Man’s Death) films all focus on Labour and the struggles that people have in trying to earn a living and getting by.

That’s what the Labour movement does really. It seeks social justice for people and fairness at work and a lot of people forget that. Unions are often doing the day to day fire fighting work in the workplace and we don’t have the chance to reach out to people with our cultural message in a way that’s more easily accessible and entertaining. The idea of the film festival is for people to have fun. In the current climate people are losing their jobs, it’s a very difficult and it’s good for people to come together and feel positive in a temporary community at this festival. We want to reach to people with a message that we all share.

It’s not just about the UK either. You’ve got films and talks from other countries including from trade unionists.

We are screening the film Biutiful (set in Barcelona and staring Javier Bardem) which is about a guy who finds out he’s got terminal cancer and he starts to look at himself in a different way, starts to explore the life that he’s lived and part of that has been exploiting migrant workers.
I think particularly in the UK at the moment migrant workers are the number one scapegoat it seems for everything. All the wrongs of the world, everybody seems to blame migrant workers. They’re the invisible workforce out there that big parts of this country were built on. It’s one of the things that upsets me more than anything; The exploitation of migrant workers and xenophobia toward them. Showing a film like Biutiful is really important and we have Daniel Bueno from Comisiones Obreras, Spain’s oldest trade union, coming to introduce the film. The winner of our short film contest , Gloria, is also on the theme of migrant workers and will be screened before Biutiful. 

Do you think film can allow people to look across borders then and see that workers in Spain face the same problems as those in London or Manchester?

That sense of global solidarity is a really important one. I’ve worked in the Labour movement for 13 or 14 years and have trade union friends from most countries and it’s wonderful to be part of a global movement. Everybody shares the same kind of ideology and friendship around social justice and fairness for everybody. When you get involved in the Labour movement you’re getting involved in something much bigger than yourself. 

We’ve talked about contemporary circumstances but we have some 80s films. Why revisit those? Is it because with the coalition and the cuts we’re almost back in the 80s politically as well? 

I don’t think we can explore the Labour movement without touching on a very important piece of Labour history which was the 1980s really, when a lot of the Labour movement, certainly the trade unions, suffered continual attacks on them. It’s touched on in Brassed Off, the miners losing their jobs and the big strikes that ensued and the kind of attacks that took place on unions and workers particularly during that time. It’s important not to forget our history. Not necessarily drawing parallels with now but if you think about the number of people that were employed as miners and the great culture that surrounded that whole community . That’s what Brassed Off draws out, that culture, the big colliery band. A lot of that history has been forgotten because when you get decline of an industry you get decline of a whole culture and then a decline of communities as well. You go to these communities now and they’re very different and they’ve suffered from the bad policies implemented in the Thatcher years. 

We’ve got special guests as well. With Brassed Off there’s Owen Jones independent Journalist and author of \’Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class.

Communities are so broken up but in times of hardship people need to pull together. The Labour movement is about that. That people are not isolated and on their own, but that someone is backing them and fighting their corner and there to support them. The Labour movement is about good values.

I’m sure conservatives would say they have good values too, family values perhaps. What do Labour values consist of for you? 

Fairness. Fairness is a key one \’cos there isn’t much fairness going on at the moment. We will be exploring that in the film Four Horseman. The director is a capitalist but he says he wants a fairer form of capitalism and that’s what he explores in the film.

So it’s about the financial crisis?

It’s not really about blaming the bankers; it’s about what’s going wrong full stop in our economic system that’s making it so unfair. The sale of luxury goods and the number of millionaires is going up and yet there’s massive unfairness in the world and we need to do something about that , and Four Horsemen starts that discussion. It by no means answers all the questions but it opens the door and that’s why we are having a panel discussion after the film about what can we do to make the world a better place. It covers workers cooperatives as being a key thing. 

So does film or do film festivals have the capacity to change anything? 

As in life everything has the capacity to make people think in a different way about things. People may come to the festival and might meet people there, become part of a community. There are speeches, special guests , Q&A’s  and opportunities for dialogue with the audience so through that people may walk away feeling a bit different about stuff . I’m not saying film’s going to change the world and make it a better place but it can go some way to doing that.

And there’s some music in the festival too. 

We’ve got Bound For Glory the Woody Guthrie film. The Men They Couldn’t Hang are performing Woody Guthrie songs before the film with violin from Bobby Valentino on Friday 14th.

Woody Guthrie sung to the riff raff, the unemployed, that was his stage. He stood up for the black civil rights movement. When that was happening Woody Guthrie went and sang with \’This machine kills fascists’ written on his guitar because he really stood against the right wing in The States and it’s  great to be celebrating him in the centenary of his life and to have this great show beforehand. Definitely one to come along to but It does clash with Biutiful so it’s gonna be tough to decide. 

The inaugural London Labour Film Ferstival is certainly packed with great films and guests. It continues today Friday 14th  including Mike Leigh doing a Q&A after a screening of High Hopes and on Saturday 15th  David Robinson, official biographer of Charlie Chaplin in Q&A after a screening of Modern Times. 

Tickets are £5.50 or £4.50 for Prince Charles Members and can be bought here and full information and the program can be found at the festival’s website which is here. 

All words by Willow Colios. You can read more from Willow on LTW here or follow him on Twitter.

Previous articleNew Band of the Day: Colaars
Next articlePussy Riot Nominated for the Prestigious Sakharov Prize


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here