FREE CINEMA SCHOOL : Why Free Cinema Today?

The drive to produce a Free Cinema School of the present in part emerges from a historical place. Among the many histories of the Edgware Road is the prominence it gained in the field of social and community education through the work of George Goetschius and Joan Tash. Their study Working with Unattached Youth, first published in 1967, was derived from field notes of a team of five community educators working in Marylebone and along the Edgware Road for three years. Originating from a coffee stall, their study became a critical text for working with young people in Britain . A reflective work, their project centred on their own processes of forming relationships with people in the Edgware Road neighbourhood, particularly those they described as ‘the unattached’, people actively disengaged from government services.

George Goetschius, the leader of the study, was an advocate of autonomous local community work. Trained in New York by the radical Sicilian social activist Danilo Dolci – organiser of ‘the strike in reverse’ (the development of unauthorised public works projects for the poor) – Goetschius was also a central part of a social circle in the mid-1950s that founded the Free Cinema movement.

While unarticulated in his studies of young people and community-organising in Britain, the link between community work and a cinema that aimed to ‘capture the experiences of ordinary Britons away from studio aesthetics’ shares with Goetschius’s work a deep commitment to practices of self-organisation and the democratic making of culture.

While we live in very different times than those of the Free Cinema movement, the artist s or ‘fellows’ selected to lead this first manifestation of the Free Cinema School at the Centre for Possible Studies share some if its original preoccupations.

Artists from no.w.here have since the early 1990s worked collectively to share access to the means of cinema production, by allowing members to use and make cinema, producing work that poignantly challenges current conventions of commercial cinema. As well as being artist s and film-makers, no.w.here has also been deeply committed to educational practices, extending skills and equipment to young people and other groups in London and internationally. Like the work of those in the study of ‘the unattached’, its work also supports and questions modes of relationship-building. These relationships range from those cultivated between artist s in London through a regular programme of screenings and discussions between people from other parts of the world, through an ongoing series of residencies, or through the relationships formed with neighbours of no.w.here’s studio in Bethnal Green, which is also used to hold an English-Urdu language exchange. During its residency at the Centre for Possible Studies in summer 2009, no.w.here led workshops with local people and visitors, to make  scenes for a collaborative film production shown at the Serpentine Gallery.

Working in another context, actors Khalid Abdalla and Cressida Trew share many commitments with the impetus of Free Cinema. As members of Zero Production, an independent film production house in Cairo , they have been working alongside film-makers from Egypt , Lebanon , and Iraq , trying to develop a different model for cinema production in the region, through their work-in-progress film In the Last Days of the City. Working on the borders where documentary and fiction meet, in and around the highly regulated spaces of urban Cairo and on location in Baghdad , Beirut and Berlin , Zero Production is part of a generation of film-makers working on semi-improvised and politically engaged cinema. Khalid and Cressida will be contributing their experience from filming everyday life and shooting on the streets of Cairo to the Cinema School ’s ongoing film project.

Back in residence, No.w.here, Khalid and Cressida have returned to re-visit questions from the Free Cinema School , asking what is a ‘free’ cinema, what can we learn about histories of pedagogical, collective and political interventions in film? What can they lend the questions and experiences of a neighbourhood in the present?

Beirut-based artists-in-residence Lamia Joreige and Rania Stephan join the Free Cinema School for a weekend master class in July. Open to anyone, Rania and Lamia will work with participants to pose questions about the various ways in which one might respond to a site. More about their work is available at he viewing station of the Centre for Possible Studies at 64 Seymour Street .

No artist involved in the Free Cinema School approaches the idea of what is ‘free’ naively. Rather, each questions what freedom might mean in the highly regulated and very complex moment in which we live, a time in which the very idea of freedom is mobilised regularly – as much in the debate surrounding the deregulation of an economy in crisis, as within ongoing projects of emancipation from cultural and economic oppression.

What is it to revisit the practices of Free Cinema from the complexity of individual desires, public mandates and private interests that currently shape the making of culture today? Or at a moment in which individuals produce and circulate their own media constantly? And where does ‘freedom’ lie in relation to ongoing initiatives to regulate movement between countries and monitor behaviours within neighbourhoods?

As a proposition of the Centre for Possible Studies, the Free Cinema School takes its cue from the original movement, proceeding with the idea of understanding cinema as a way of both reflecting contemporary life and inserting the political and the  poetic into its daily negotiations.

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