From over two years ago now – as part of the Iniva’s Keywords exhibition and programmed by The Otolith Collective – the Militant Image presents Penny Stempel’s rarely screened film In the National Interest? (1986). (16/05/2013)
Penny Stempel’s seminal film, co-directed by Chris Rushton, looks at those sections of British society targeted by the government, the judicial system and the police in the name of the national interest in Britain in the 1980s. The film assesses the legitimation crisis of the British state by exploring the connections between trade union struggles, racial attacks and processes of criminalisation.
In the National Interest? was produced by Cardiff based Chapter Video Workshop, co-founded by Stempel and Rushton, a franchised workshop under the ACTT Workshop Declaration – an act that facilitated the funding of film and video workshops to produce work for television. This allowed the groups, already working on directly politically and socially engaged film-making, to consolidate their activities. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85, Stempel had worked closely with Wales’ mining community, recording testimonies that contributed to the widely distributed Miners Campaign Tapes. Upon viewing this, Alan Fountain, the Commissioning Editor of Channel 4’s Independent Film and Video Department (IFVD), approached Chapter to make a film for Channel 4’s People to People strand.
In the National Interest? was made in a unique and unprecedented cooperation with other independent film and video workshops including ABSC Film and Video, Activision Studios, Albany Video, Another View, Belfast Independent Video, Biased Tapes, Black Audio Film Collective, Derry Film & Video Collective, Faction Films, Films at Work,Open Eye, Sankofa, Sheffield Asian Film and Video, Trade Films, TUTV and Women in Sync. Seemingly galvanised by the Miner’s Strike, these workshops donated film and video material from their own campaigns to Chapter for integration within In the National Interest?
In the discussion that follows, Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar of The Otolith Collective, remark on this ‘cinema of coalition’ that links up other struggles within Britain’s ‘geography of resistance’ at the time. The discussion also explores the complex and controversial production history of In the National Interest?, the formation of the workshop movement in 1980s Britain, the struggles of the workshops to invent a new language for television, the role played by the Independent Film and Television Department at Channel 4 and the legacies of oppositional film in Britain in the present.
This was a Militant Image event, an ongoing programme in which Iniva investigates radical film practice in association with the Otolith Group and with the support of the Department of Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London.