Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Crowd allowed

Siobhan McGuirk on the way inspiring new documentary Just Do It was made

August 4, 2011
5 min read


Siobhan McGuirkSiobhan McGuirk is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


  share     tweet  

In 2008, while working on the climate change polemic The Age Of Stupid, filmmaker Emily James began to wonder how the problem might be addressed. ‘I think a lot of people go through the same cycle of seeing the problem, doing a little research, realising it’s a gargantuan problem and then getting quite disillusioned, like it’s insurmountable,’ she says.

A few phone calls later, however, and the cycle began to crack. Campaigners from Plane Stupid wanted James to capture them blocking the runway at Stansted, and later another group asked her to film them boarding a coal train to unload its cargo.

‘It was inspiring seeing people who weren’t succumbing to that sense of being overwhelmed,’ she says. ‘Their reaction was to do something really bold and dramatic. That excited me. I immediately wanted to tell their story.’

Over the following year, a team of camera operators covered protests, stunts and solidarity camps, amassing 200 hours of footage. This has been whittled down into an ebullient 90-minute documentary that tracks a group of mostly young activists as they bring media, political and public attention to the myriad causes of climate change – from coal-fired power stations and ever‑expanding airports to investment banks and government offices. The film premiered at the Sheffield Documentary Festival in July and is currently visiting cinemas nationwide. The leap of faith paid off.

Broad base

Behind this success lies the work of motivated volunteers and more than 400 ‘crowd-funders’, a broad base of supporters who responded to calls to finance the film with donations of £10 upwards. Their contribution has been vital.

‘My initial plan was to make a short reel, take it to broadcasters and get a commission,’ says James, who has worked in television for more than a decade. The cynicism of mainstream producers forced her to reconsider the approach.

‘There wasn’t a great deal of interest in the sympathetic portrait that I wanted to make – only if it was done in a derisive way,’ she explains. ‘The word “objective” was thrown around, but actually to mean “critical”. I don’t think they’re the same thing and wasn’t willing take the film in that direction.’

For James, the request indicated prejudices against non‑mainstream political agitators. ‘If I’d wanted to make the film with an African young persons’ choral group, nobody would have been talking about “objectivity” in the same sense.’

The team decided to go independent, applying for support from ecological foundations and film funds. The secretive nature of filming meant that the highly public activity of crowd-funding could only be pursued during the post-production process, which allowed the team time to consider their approach and design an inclusive system.

The Age of Stupid was a forerunner for crowd-funding, but stipulated a minimum investment of £5,000. Investors were then remunerated from box-office takings and sales, meaning that recouping expenditures became a necessary goal for the filmmakers. The Just Do It team wanted to try something new.

‘We felt that, given the strong anti-capitalist message of the film, we would prefer to do something that was more widely democratic,’ explains James, ‘so we went for straight donations.’

Local champions

The plan has worked – to an extent. Fundraising efforts have helped build a strong support base for the film, with donors becoming local champions, spreading the word and requesting cinema screenings. There’s enough in the coffers to cover expenses and get speakers to the films.

After the initial theatrical run, the aim is to offer free screenings and downloads to get the film to as many viewers as possible. More funds are needed to cover the leg-work involved.

‘We raised a lot less money [than The Age of Stupid], which is a little frustrating,’ James concedes. ‘People struggle to get their head around the idea that they should put their hand in their pocket so that others can see a film for free.’

She is philosophical about this struggle, however, seeing it as the start of a long process. ‘It’s one of the inherent contradictions of trying to do things that question and undermine the capitalist models that we’re used to – while still functioning in a capitalist structure that we can’t easily escape.’

While there may still be a few creases to iron out with the format, other filmmakers are picking up the idea with gusto. The Real Social Network, a similarly themed documentary covering the recent protests against student fees, is one of many already in post‑production.

Originally born of necessity, the funding model behind Just Do It can be seen as reflecting the ethos of the project: challenging the status quo, asserting democratic freedoms to speak to power and putting politics before profit. n

Just Do It is showing in select cinemas nationwide. For up to date screening information, and to find out how you can get your local cinema involved, go to www.justdoitfilm.com

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Siobhan McGuirkSiobhan McGuirk is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee


2