The Street has a Thousand Eyes

By Chris Darke, 10 September 2001

Coming soon to a screen near you, Genoa: The Movie. Actually, probably not.

Over two years into the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, the digital video camera has become a staple of ‘eye-witness’ news. From CNN to Indymedia, its recordings are used to tell the streets’ stories. In the wake of the G8 summit in Genoa, Chris Darke talks to two groups of film-makers about how this reportage might meet traditions of feature film-making



Coming soon to a screen near you, Genoa: The Movie. Actually, given the sclerotic nature of British film distribution and exhibition, probably not. For the duration of the anti-G8 demonstrations in July, some of the most illustrious names in Italian cinema coordinated a group of film-makers to document the events. Organised by the veteran director Francesco Maselli under the name The Italian Cinema at the Genoa Social Forum, the team includes names such as Gillo Pontecorvo, director of the classic The Battle of Algiers, Ettore Scola, Mario Monicelli and Francesca and Cristina Comencini among the 35-strong team of directors. From the 290 hours of footage gathered by the camera crews, two versions of a film entitled Another World is Possible will be produced: a one-hour and ten minutes long cut for the Italian state TV channel RAI3 and a two-hour version for cinemas.

‘The film won’t only be a denunciation of the Italian police actions,’ Maselli told me from Rome. ‘Of course, it will cover this and the actions of the Black Bloc. The basis of the film will be the ideas and discussions that took place between the unions, the universities and the many people from the Catholic movements. Eight camera crews were shooting the Genoa Social Forum meetings before the demonstrations. There were three days when there were two parallel meetings. These will frame the film.’ Maselli refers to the tradition in Italian cinema of politically committed film-making that goes back to the great days of post-war ‘neo-realism’. ‘Pontecorvo, Mario Monicelli and I did a press conference that attracted a lot of attention in Italy where we indicated the three goals of the film. Firstly, to return to the idea of documentation, of the Italian tradition of neo-realism. Secondly, we have the idea of giving the power of speech and image to the thousands of people who are eliminated from the decisions that rule their lives. Thirdly, there was something that Monicelli said that we all accepted as our basic working principle. As film-makers we all have different political positions but we are united by a severe and negative judgment of capitalism in this century. If I had said that, nobody would have been surprised to hear it from an ‘engaged’ film-maker. But to hear such a thing from Monicelli who is associated with Italian comedies was astonishing!’

Maselli points to an ‘interesting contradiction’ in the Italian media coverage of the demonstrations, where several major TV channels and newspapers are owned by companies controlled by the premier, Silvio Berlusconi. ‘There has been huge exploitation of the Black Bloc’s activities and an attempt to propagate the idea that the demonstration was entirely characterised by their violence. On the other hand, the media has been obliged – even those TV channels owned by Berlusconi – to show the assaults on peaceful demonstrators by the police. The Italian police had generally let the Black Bloc carry out their interventions and then attacked the peaceful protesters with no regard for whether they were families or Catholic groups.’ Maselli and others will be giving a press conference on the second day of the Venice Film Festival. Whether the film turns up on British screens remains to be seen.


Of the films emerging from the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, This is What Democracy Looks Like, shot among Seattle’s anti-WTO demonstrations in 1999, stands as one of the most widely seen. Rick Rowley and Jacqui Soohen of Big Noise Films were in London having been filming at Genoa as part of the Independent Media Centre to set up further screenings of the Seattle film. ‘There’s a great commentator in the US called Patty Zimmerman who says “If you want to shoot from the air you have to fly with the state”, meaning that all the images from protests and wars are supplied by the state,’ Rowley told me, ‘“But we own the war on the ground.” If you want to shoot on the ground with the people then you can’t stand with the corporate media. We were shooting with the Zapatistas when they entered Mexico City and every time the corporate press panned their cameras onto groups of protesters they would shout back at the cameras ‘Mentiras, mentiras, mentiras… Liars, Liars, Liars’ until they panned their cameras away. In the streets everywhere you see the corporate press runs and hides behind the police lines. Our cameras don’t have, and don’t want, that option. When we were at Seattle for example, when the whole Independent Media Centre thing first came together, we had over 100 cameras in the streets, more cameras than any corporate news agency could possibly afford to mobilise. So we had a scope and vision in our coverage that corporate news can’t hope to have. Once it was produced it was distributed through activist networks which, outside of corporate distribution, managed to reach many more people than we possibly could have had we gotten through a corporate arthouse distribution deal.’

‘Our estimates are that at least a million people have seen This is What Democracy Looks Like,’ Jacqui Soohen expands. ‘And that network is going to be the network for all the other films that come out. It’s become more and more apparent to people that they don’t want to see these films on television. They don’t want to see them at arthouse cinemas. They want to organise themselves. They want to see them in a space where they can talk about them afterwards and where they can make plans for future actions about their own local actions.’

‘There is something remarkable about this moment that we’re in, both politically and in the media we’re allowed to make,’ Rowley adds. ‘In the same way that, back in the ‘60s, the development of portable sync-sound served as the technical counterpart of new social movements in cinema-verité. In its cinematic language, cinema-verité mimicked the new politics of experience, the different cultural nationalisms speaking against a monologic power. In the same way, a new digital aesthetic is emerging that is produced out of massively parallel collaborative story-telling where you have 100 to 200 cameras and many different threads running through things. Our digital aesthetic is growing as the aesthetic televisual counterpart to the movement’s histories.’

Chris Darke <cjdarke AT>

Genoa Social Forum []Independent Media Centre []This is What Democracy Looks Like []