The most recent book-length study of radical British filmmaking, Margaret Dickinson’s Rogue Reels: Oppositional Film in Britain, 1945-90 (1999), ends by noting the emergence Undercurrents in 1994 as an example of the burgeoning use of video as a propaganda tool. Indeed, Undercurrents went on to become one of the most established British video-activist groups in the 1990s, among others such as Despite TV and Conscious Cinema.
However, while Undercurrents remain a key part of contemporary video-activist culture, the technological, socio-economic and political transformations that have taken place since the 1990s render that culture significantly different today. Digital technologies and the internet have resulted in the dramatic expansion of the video-activist field at the same time as they have presented it with a variety of challenges and opportunities. Meanwhile, major movements and events have shifted the socio-economic and political terrain in which contemporary video-activists are working. From the rise of the anti-capitalist movement at the turn of the century and the election of a variety of left-wing leaders in Latin America, to 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, impending climate catastrophe and, most recently, austerity, contemporary video-activism is operating in an entirely different context from the 1990s.
This chapter explores some of these key contextual shifts and investigates their multiple impacts on contemporary video-activism, investigating what has become Britain’s most long-standing radical newsreel group: Reel News. Exploring the organisation’s history, politics and practical strategies, I will show that Reel News cannot be understood outside of its technological, socio-political and economic context. However, the chapter will also situate Reel News as part of a much wider culture of radical video-activism in Britain, and ultimately argue that, despite being overlooked for the better part of the last twenty years, oppositional filmmaking in Britain is alive and kicking.