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'One screening away from disaster': Precarity and commitment in the Radical Film Network’s community exhibition sector

Presence, Steve



Sarita Malik

Caroline Chapain

Roberta Comunian


This chapter will build on the conference paper presented at the ‘Community Filmmaking’ conference in January 2014, which discussed the Bristol Radical Film Festival in the context of community filmmaking and the emergent project to develop what was then a national network infrastructure to support radical film culture in the UK.

Since then, the Radical Film Network (RFN) has expanded significantly, both in the UK and overseas, and now consists of more than 100 affiliated organisations based in nineteen countries worldwide. The first section of the chapter will begin with an introduction to and overview of the RFN, and situate the network in the context of the contemporary radical film culture from which it emerged. That culture has expanded significantly in recent years, as access to digital technologies have meshed with socio-economic, political and environmental contexts marked by crisis and discontent. As a result, those organisations that remain from the radical film cultures of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have been joined by a plethora of more recent groups, and there now exists a wealth of organisations dedicated to the production, distribution and exhibition of films broadly aligned with the politics of the radical left. The RFN was designed to provide infrastructural support to this community-based film culture as a whole: filmmakers, festivals, critics, distribution platforms, curators, scholars and everyone else interested or involved in it. The network was founded in September 2013, and was formally launched at its inaugural conference in February 2015, which hosted 150 delegates from around the world.

This section of the chapter will also explore some of the core ideas at the heart of the network, including its intentions to connect the current political film community with the previous generation of scholars, filmmakers and activists; and to rekindle the relationship between the political and aesthetic avant-gardes. Indeed, the RFN was designed, in part, as a digital successor to the Independent Filmmakers’ Association (IFA, 1974-90), which was the last network of this kind in Britain and which did much to the facilitate productive relationships between the two avant-gardes in that period.

Having established the broad context of the RFN and the place of radical film within contemporary community film culture, the second part of the chapter will focus on three community-oriented exhibition organisations: The Birmingham Film Co-op, Exploding Cinema, and the Liverpool Radical Film Festival. The Birmingham Film Co-op was founded in 2010 to show films relating to social justice, the environment, co-operation and human rights. It hosts monthly events in the city centre, and is run democratically by its members. Exploding Cinema is a not-for-profit organisation based in London that was founded in 1991 to support ‘DIY cinema, film and video’. It hosts regular events in various venues across the city at which anyone can show their work, and is also run on a democratic, voluntary basis. The Liverpool Radical Film Festival was set-up in 2011 and, like the Birmingham Film Co-op, aims to show films that address social and political issues. The LRFF runs monthly events as well as an annual festival.

This second part of the chapter will be based on original interviews with the members of these organisations, and will explore their different approaches to the concept of community and radical cinema. It will explore their respective approaches to funding and organisation; the motivations behind their work; the audiences they aim to reach; and the kinds of experiences they aim to offer.

Community exhibition is a fundamental part of both contemporary radical film culture and the wider landscape of community filmmaking of which it is a part. This chapter comprises both a wide angle view of radical film culture as a whole as well as a close-up analysis of some of the key exhibition organisations involved.

Author bio: Dr Steve Presence is a Research Associate at UWE whose work focuses on the industrial and underground sectors of British film culture. As well as working with Professor Spicer on the British component of the SiFTI project, he is the founding co-director of the Bristol Radical Film Festival, convenor of the Radical Film Network (RFN), and digital editor of the Journal of Media Practice. His work has appeared in collections - including Cinema, Television and History: New Approaches (2014) and The Routledge Companion to Film and Politics (forthcoming) - and in journals and magazine such as Working USA, Film International and Cinemascope. He is currently working on the book version of his PhD thesis, The Political Avant-garde: Oppositional Documentary in Britain since 1990.


Presence, S. (2017). 'One screening away from disaster': Precarity and commitment in the Radical Film Network’s community exhibition sector. In S. Malik, C. Chapain, & R. Comunian (Eds.), Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Practices and Places. London: Routledge

Acceptance Date Apr 1, 2015
Publication Date Jan 18, 2017
Journal Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Innovation, Policy and Practice
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Series Title Routledge Studies in Media and Cultural Industries
Book Title Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Practices and Places
ISBN 9781138188068
Keywords Radical Film Network, community exhibition
Publisher URL
Related Public URLs
Additional Information Additional Information : This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Practices and Places on 17 April 2017 available online:


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