The Year of the Beaver (1985), directed by Steve Sprung, Dave Fox and Sylvia Stevens, recently screened by Radical Islington earlier this month, focuses on the industrial dispute at the Grunwicks photographic processing plant in Willesden, London in the summer of 1977. The workforce, predominately consisting of British Asian women, most of whom had only recently arrived in the UK, decided to go on strike over the issue of trade union recognition. The strike lasted for two years.
Jack Jones, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) under the Callaghan government, had tagged 1977 the ‘Year of the Beaver’ in an endeavour to encourage productivity and revitalise confidence in union-management relations. Contrary to this optimism, weaving workers interviews with news footage, the film reveals issues of race and gender discrimination in the workplace, media misrepresentation and dubious trade union conduct, all intensified on the picket line by an excessive police presence. Fundamentally, Year of the Beaver reveals the epoch transition from the post-war consensus in Britain, underpinned by the Keynesian economic model, to the neo-liberalist attitudes and policies adopted by the Thatcher government. The film depicts the inauguration of the post-Fordist paradigm – the casualised, flexible, temporary, outsourced working life to which we have now grown accustomed.
Steve Sprung, the film’s co-director and editor, was a member of Cinema Action, a leading independent film group, which became one of Channel 4’s first ‘independent sector’ workshops, a founder member of Faction Films and member of the Poster-Film Collective. In addition, Steve was a key collaborator with Marc Karlin and Lusia Films. Here is an excert from a wonderful article written by Steve for Vertigo magazine recalling his collaboration with Marc Karlin.
It was this Thatcher period which formed the context for my work with and for Marc. My background had been in a more agitational cinema, but I had been struggling for years, labouring away in the basement under Lusia Films, with a film about a failed strike under the previous Labour government, and its role in laying the ground for the Thatcherism that was to come. How to talk about events which had been mischaracterised both by the dominant media industry and by the working classes’ own trade union and political organisations? How to reveal this massive content, tell this necessary story, and find an adequate form in which to do it? This film, The Year of the Beaver, finally emerged in the early eighties. It manages to create multiple layers of meaning, drawing connections between the myriad things it had been necessary to take on board. When he saw it, Marc hugged me. This, I felt, was our first real meeting.
Steve Sprung would act as cameraman, editor and narrator on five films directed by Marc Karlin, including Between Times (1993), an essay on the future of the left and the search for viable alternatives, and The Serpent (1997), an indictment of the left’s demonising of Rupert Murdoch. Here are the first thirty minutes of The Year of the Beaver (1985).
The Year of the Beaver
UK 1985 Dir. Dave Fox/Steve Sprung/Sylvia Stevens. 77 min 16mm/b&w/2772 feet
Script SPRUNG, Steve
Script STEVENS, Sylvia
Script FOX, David
Director of Photography SCHESARI, Nancy
Director of Photography SPRUNG, Steve
Photography SPRUNG, Steve
Production crew SCHESARI, Nancy
Editor SPRUNG, Steve
Editor STEVENS, Sylvia
Editor FOX, David
Editorial consultant RONAY, Esther
Title Design GREEN, David
Sound Editor MacGILLIVRAY, Carol
Narrator LAMONT, Anne
Narrator SPRUNG, Steve
Other Cinema Ltd – Foreign Theatrical Distributor
Poster-Film Collective – Production Company
Faction Films – Production CompanyGLC Productions, Inc. – Producer Credit