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Cinema Aficionado: The Rudiments of Film

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Documentary. [May. 31st, 2008|09:50 pm]
Cinema Aficionado: The Rudiments of Film


On The Verge - The Smash EDO Campaign Film
SchMovies, 2008

(posted to cinemaficionado and antiwar)

Which is less comforting? That the state authorities are so stupid that they don't think passionate activists will notice their ham-fisted attempts at illegal control over us? Or that they are actually behaving intelligently, in ways we can't understand, and are only letting us think they are stupid? As much as our leaders deny any indications of Orwellian nightmare, I'm sure they would prefer us to think the latter.

The story of On The Verge is one of the police being forced to show their true allegiances, by a group of civilians with everything against them. EDO MBM is a company with a factory based in Brighton that makes bomb racks, release clips and arming mechanisms for warplanes. They sell to the militaries of the UK, U.S., Australia and Israel, thus making possible the war crimes those countries are complicit in. Since 2004 it has been the unwilling host of hundreds of non-violent but sometimes confrontational protests, and in April 2005 sought a huge injunction around the factory, so thorough and geographically wide that it would have kept one protester from living in his house. The name of the film comes from the fact that during the year long trial – which failed to get a permanent injunction and cost EDO over a million pounds – protesters were confined to a narrow grass verge across the street from the factory. Patchy information indicates that senior members of Sussex Police tried to trump up the threat the activists posed by increasing the number of arrests – which are shown to be bogus on film - in collusion with the company directors, in order to get the injunction. This is just one of a number of tricks the police have employed to make clear that their dedication to law-keeping stops dead at the national border.

The film itself has been subject to oppression, a term the police appear to be unaware encompasses behaviour beyond swinging their batons. The premiere at the Duke of Yorks Cinema in Brighton was cancelled after police contacted the local council to tell them the film didn't have a BBFC certification (the police denied any involvement but quickly had to backtrack). Then venues in half a dozen towns across the country received similar treatment, despite the fact that micro-budget films have always existed without classifications. The police then had the gall to say they had nothing to do with any of it (or the subsequent boost in interest, presumably). On The Verge, understandably, spends a lot of time detailing various legal happenings over the course of the campaign. These events should concern anyone who doesn't want to live in a police state. This is not just a film about arms dealing.

But should it have been more so? It is a paradox that such an internationalist issue becomes very domestic. The film is inspiring, anger-inducing and amusing, a feat given that, so often, footage of protests can't in any way capture how exciting it is to be there. However I can't help but feel that more arguments against arms dealing and the racism embedded in it would have been good. Like that the industry is purely exhibitionist and profiteering, contributing nothing to the economy, or that it would never be politically acceptable to fire missiles at wealthy white people. Is it possible at all that the police, knowing how rightly wary the public now is of anything government associated, is willing to burn its last piece of credibility in order to keep the discussion away from these topics, the very ones we protested against in the first place? Does this not fit the fairly logical belief that business power towers above those of our supposed representatives?

For those of us far away from Brighton, it might seem that SchNEWS - whose video activists made the film - has, increasingly over the past few years, simply been indulging in reporting a local campaign. On The Verge addresses this concern at the same time that, for me, it gave a fantastic realisation. Even if we think anyone taking part in the trade of weapons deserves to be stopped, if we're going to put a lot of our effort into one target, would it not make more sense to pick a target that makes the parts that actually kill people? Wouldn't this make our argument more clear to the general public?

The reason for both the choice of campaign and its heavy independent coverage is that we have a good chance of winning there: when you want to break a chain, you go after the weakest link. The EDO factory is that link. We couldn't be optimistic at this point about closing a Rolls Royce facility, or indeed the Ministry of Defence. It is an open acknowledgement that the weapons dealers are our enemies. We are not going to play nice with the roughest business of them all. Quite aside from their aims of killing from 20,000 feet, the arms industry does not play fair on the political front: they rely on secrecy, knowing full well that the majority of people would be horrified at such a fundamentally deadly trade that takes place for the benefit of the few. A campaign like Smash EDO starts a public debate they know they can't win.

Will the closure of EDO MBM send shockwaves through the industry, as the campaign professes? There's only one way to find out.

The film can now be downloaded or purchased: www.smashedo.org.uk