Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Tale of Two Barnets goes to the seaside !

If you want to arrange a screening of A Tale of Two Barnets, please email us via the email link in the top right hand corner of this blog or vistit the film website at

Yesterday was quite a day for me. Due to bus strikes I had to be up earlier than usual, to drop my son off to Finchley for school. After dropping him, I drove to near Underhill to meet Ruth Kutner and Tirza Waisel, two of the stars of the smash huit film (in Barnet at least!) - A Tale of Two Barnets. We'd been invited to the UNISON conference at Bournemouth, where the film was being shown, to talk about the film. ccompanying us was stallwart campaigner Maggi Myland.

This was actually the 22nd screening, including local showings. 150 of the conference delegates gave up their lunchtime to watch and participate in a Q&A session. I estimate that well over 2,000 people have now attended the various screenings and  there are more being lined up.

I was actually rather worried about this screening. Whilst it was an honour to be invited by UNISON to their conference and to sit on a panel and answer questions, there were several aspects of this I found daunting. Firstly I am not a Trade Unionist. I've never belong to a Trade Union and I run my own business. I've never worked in the public sector either. The second aspect is that I was worried the film wouldn't be waht they were expecting. I suspected that many people would expect a film at the UNISON conference to concentrate on opposition to the cuts and to issues which affect trades union members. Whilst we discuss these issues in the latter part of the film, it is really more about how the general policies of a right wing and rather uncaring council affect local people from all sectors of the community. The first 8 minutes are about how Barnets parking policies affect local business owners. I wondered how these issues would play qith the delegates.

The third issue which made me wonder how the film would be received by a room full of people with no association with Barnet and scant knowledge of the political scene here. During local showings, the footage of the Leader of Barnet Council and the CEO elicited a strong response. How would people who don't live here respond. When Charles Honderick and myself sat down to discuss the editing of the film and the pace and structure of it, we wanted to ensure that someone with no knowledge of Barnet would still find the film interesting.

So at 1pm, I stood up and gave a short introduction. I explained the film was about the community in Barnet and how it had been affected by local and national polices. I also briefly explained how the production of the film had brought together diverse groups and had acted as a focus for those seeking to change the policies of  Barnet Council.

Then the film started. Aside from the original editing, this was the 11th time I've watched it in a public showing. Apart from the original showing at the Phoenix, this was the most nervous I'd felt. We had also made some technical improvements to the film. We have had some money back from video sales & donations and we were able to pay a friend of mine who is a sh*t hot sound engineer to improve the sound quality. We'd also made some small technical edits, which make it seem a little bit smoother and slicker.

I had wanted to do this for the original showing, but time and money ran out. This was the first time I'd seen the new cut on a big screen. As Ken Loach opened up the film someone behind me said "That's Ken Loach, how did they get him?". What was interesting was just how similar the reaction was to the Barnet screenings.
At the end the Q&A was also very interesting. It was totally different to the Barnet Screenings. In Barnet, people say "We didn't know all this was going on, what can we do to change it". A room full of UNISON reps said the same thing in different ways "These are exactly the same issues we are facing with our council, this film shows us how to get the message across". One delegate asked me how we had put the film together. I explained that all you need to do is find someone who wants to make a film, maybe local students etc, give them a small amount of financial help (for expenses etc) and introduce them to local people who havea  story to tell.

One delegate said he wanted to show the film in Nottingham. He also was pleased that we'd highlighted the parking issue because they had problems in his own. Many other delegates agreed. Afterwards, I chatted to delegates from around the country. The message was the same. They'd been struggling to get the message across to local people. The film had given the ideas. I'd pointed out that you don't even need to hire a cinema, you can get a big local audience through Youtube and viral emails. We've chosen to not go this route, because we want to meet people and engage with them. That doesn't mean that this is always the best way.  The clips on the website have all had over 200 hits and have been featured on other sites. The film website has had nearly 4,000 hits. All in all, I think this is a very impressive result for a film made with virtually zero budget and with promotion being done purely by email and blogs. We've also sold nearly 200 copies of the DVD. Many people have given us £10 or £20 donations for the DVD rather than the suggested £3 sale price.

I sincerely hope that some of the UNISON delegates go away and make their own films. It is a powerful medium and one which I believe is under utilised. One UNISON delegate congratulated me on the fact that as a direct result of Brian Coleman losing the GLA election, the GLA had reversed the privatisation of the Fire Brigade Command and Control centre. I believe that the film played a major role in helping to organise the campaign against Brian Coleman. For me that is a matter of some pride.

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