This chapter explores the complex contemporary landscape of British video-activism. The most recent book-length study of oppositional film in Britain, Margaret Dickinson’s Rogue Reels: Oppositional Film in Britain, 1945-90 (1999), ends by noting the emergence Undercurrents in 1994 as one of the groups continuing the tradition of producing and disseminating radical audio-visual material. While somewhat different from their 1990s incarnation, Undercurrents remain a key part of the contemporary landscape of British video-activism, along with a number of other groups. This chapter explores that landscape, taking stock of the field as a whole and looking in more detail at some of its most radical players.
Beginning with a wide-angle summation of the spectrum of British video-activist culture – from small, grass-roots oppositional organisations to large, well-funded institutions and others that specialise in access video, as well as broader alternative media aggregators and other political groups which use video-activism – I will indicate the range of political positions and forms of use that currently characterise the genre. Whilst those video-activists with more radical anti-capitalist politics are of most interest to revolutionaries, giving this broader perspective before focussing on the more radical filmmakers is important. None of these groups exist in isolation from one another, and oppositional grass-roots video-activists work in an environment dominated by the larger groups. Thus their practise has to be understood in relation to that environment. Moreover, although the differences between the groups are distinct, organisations inevitably move along what is a spectrum of radicality in their work. These distinctions are porous and indicative; emphasising only the most radical elements of British video-activism without mentioning its more liberal manifestations would give a skewed image of the culture.
Nevertheless, having sketched out this wider terrain of contemporary British video-activism and explored some of the broader issues it is facing, I want to zoom in to focus on the five most consistently active and explicitly oppositional video-activist organisations currently operating in mainland Britain: Undercurrents; SchMOVIES; Camcorder Guerrillas; Reel News and visionOntv. Looking in closer detail at these more radical video-activist organisations, I will show that despite the contextual changes there exist very strong ties to video-activist culture of the 1990s. Considering each in turn, I will explore their history, politics and strategies before focussing on Reel News, one of the most militant and class-conscious of the video-activist groups, and VisionOnTV, a group developing a radically horizontal model of citizen-journalism. Encompassing both the general and the specific in recent video-activist filmmaking, this chapter sheds light on a key site of Britain’s contemporary audio-visual anti-capitalist culture.