Keith Parkins | 26.11.2004 16:11 | Analysis
BeyondTV is a festival of short documentaries, visuals and animations followed by two nights of partying to excellent music.
I arrived in Swansea on the Friday afternoon. What struck me once the train had passed through the Severn tunnel was the derelict industrial landscape. Swansea was a dismal place, a town slowly dying.
I checked into my hotel and down to the Patti Pavilion. The Patti, as it is affectionately known locally, is a lovely venue down on the seafront, being left to slowly decay into rack and ruin by the local authority. A pity as it is an excellent meeting venue. Undercurrents had done an amazing job with the murals they had hanging from the walls. In the middle of the floor, a wigwam in which to chill out!
First to be shown was the premier of 40 minute documentary Reach for the Sky on Swansea Airport. A story all too familiar to everyone, local council in the pocket of developers, that does not give a shit about the local community or the environment. To add insult to injury, the state was subsidising the commercial operation. There was too much focus on global warming. Yes, aviation is a major contributor, but that from Swansea would be infinitesimal. Slightly irritating was lack of information on how it was eventually stopped. It seemed to be simply because it was not a commercial success, but I can not be sure. Having opposed a business airport at Farnborough, I would have found it useful to have been able to have chatted to the filmmakers and the opponents of Swansea Airport. They may have been around, but if they were, they did not make themselves obvious or available.
I then met Heidi Douglas, who was to have a film in the international section the next day. We did an excellent job of building a tower of wooden bricks, until the inevitable happened and it toppled over.
We found time to have a bite to eat of the excellent food on offer, which a small dedicated group of volunteers worked hard to keep us fed all night.
Then what everyone was waiting for, Seize the Day. Brilliant as ever. Their line up had changed since I had last seen them, bigger and a brass section. Before they vanished into the night, Heidi and I went back stage and said hi to the band and especially to Shannon and Theo.
There was then dance until midnight, but most of the people went home after Seize the Day.
Saturday there was a workshop in the morning. Which I did not make as having got up for breakfast after a sleepless night and feeling very rough, I went back to bed.
In fact, I missed a good portion of the first afternoon session. What I did see was a short clip on the potential abuses of the Tesco loyalty card.
Loyalty cards are not all that is wrong with supermarkets ...
The best session by far was the international session which followed next, after a short tea break. It is difficult and probably unfair to pick out any favorites from this session as all was excellent, so I'll just comment on what I can remember, in no particular order.
Dee narrated her Granny Goes to Palestine, her holiday snaps as she called it. Palestinians had asked for cameras and a laptop, so they could get their story out of living under brutal occupation to a wider world. Dee, with her three grandkids at her side, showed bombed out houses, kids throwing rocks at Israeli tanks and soldiers, Palestinians and peace activists trying (unsuccessfully) to negotiate an army road block.
Listening to Dee and seeing what she had to show, I was struck by the similarities between Iraq and Palestine that were narrated at meeting with Peggy Gish a couple of days before. Peggy Gish had just come out of Iraq.
Dee had on sale olive oil she had brought out of Palestine. I regret to say I neglected to buy a bottle.
A postscript to Dee's film: ISM run regular training weekends for people who wish to follow in Dee's footsteps and take a trip out to occupied Palestine. The next training weekend will be Sat/Sunday 11-12 December 2004 (usually held first weekend of the month). It is highly recommended that you go through one of these training weekends before going out to occupied Palestine. ISM will be screening two documentaries on occupied Palestine, evening Saturday 11 December 2004, plus latest from volunteers recently returned from occupied Palestine.
Hippies from Hell gave an insight into the activities of hackers and lockpickers, who are becoming increasingly criminalised.
Somewhat dated, it should have been shown at least three years ago, the animation Taliban Women was an amusing look at how the Taliban treat women.
The film by Heidi Douglas of the destruction of the Tasmanian Rainforests was excellent. It really brought the message home, destruction of a rainforest for wood chips, all in the name of corporate greed. I hope to write more on this in the near future.
Also brilliant was the animation from Norway, Cows with Guns.
Early dinner, good, but not as good as Friday.
The third and final session was something of a disappointment. Too much rubbish that was not worth showing, although there was some good stuff too.
Zoe Broughton talked us through a short clip of the undercover documentary she filmed of abuses at Huntingdon Death Sciences.
A couple who had appeared on some crap reality TV programme, highlighted how bad what society considers 'normal'.
I have to mention the animation that is at the beginning of the latest Undercurrents alternative news DVD. It is absolutely brilliant.
There was to be the Welsh premier of The Corporation. Well there was, of sorts. We got the trailer, which was crap, then a preview. I hope to review the book soon, and if I see the film, I will add the film.
The evening session was bedeviled with technical problems. Several of the DVDs did not wish to play.
There was a plea for short documentaries, rather than long ones. I agree, especially as these can be grouped together and put on CD or DVD for easy distribution – an alternative distribution network where people are encouraged to copy and burn and pass around.
Then it was party and music all night until midnight. Surprisingly, most went home after the last of the films, leaving the dance floor to the real party goers. As one girl said to me later, this is great, not your usual nightclub morons and plenty of room to dance. Music a blend of Latin, techno and funk, large screens for visuals and not to be left out, percussionists on stage, who I joined on the African hand drums.
After midnight, we all helped, those who were left that is, to clear up.
A lot of hard work by a dedicated crowd of volunteers. Worth going down to Swansea for? A very definite yes. But if I see another video of a demo!!!!!
A special thanks to the charming little girl from Algeria, fluent in English, Arabic and French. Together with her brother, we tried to spin plates on the end of sticks. At which we were hopeless failures. We then played several games of Connect Four. She was a worthy opponent. Although she only beat me once, I had to play a strong defensive game to beat her.
And a very special thanks to all the hard working volunteers who made it all possible.
Some time in the near future Undercurrents hope to put together a compilation DVD. It was not possible to do it in time for the festival as they lacked the manpower, and some of the screenings only came in at the last minute.
BeyondTV was a refreshing change to the crap pumped out by the mainstream media. Anyone who has any remaining doubts as to what is wrong with mainstream media, only has to look to the main TV networks in the US, which like their UK counterparts are in the business of entertainment and corporate greed, not information. When one of the major US networks interrupted programmes to announce the death of Yasser Arafat, the viewers complained. The response of the network was to fire the producer who had taken the fatal decision to interrupt programmes!
The next day was a Green Fayre organised by the Swansea Environment Centre. Not knowing when it was and being a lovely day (the previous two days were freezing cold and wet) I took myself off for a three hour walk along the beach along the water's edge.
Having arrived and found Swansea a dismal place, I found it had its charms, and come Sunday evening, I did not feel like leaving - the natives friendly, and they seem to have an activist community. But needs must. The journey back bloody awful. No train at Swansea, absolute chaos, a bus to Cardiff, overcrowded train to Reading and Paddington.
A minor criticism. BeyondTV seemed not to have received much publicity locally. I spoke to several people, who said if only we had known, we would have loved to have come.