Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
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.’
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
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook