An interview with long-serving anarchist Greg Hall, who is an award-winning film-maker, writer and director of The Plague (2004), Kapital (2007) and SSDD (2010). He has recently finished shooting the film Bruised (2012).
How did you come across radical politics?
The first event that evoked a political response in me was the anti-war build up before the attack on Iraq. I was at art school and I remember we organised some street parties amongst the students and went along as a contingent to the big demos. I was coming away from the protests with bundles of propaganda.
Radical politics began to have more of an effect on me. In my second year I was making a film project about the 121 squat set in the 1980s, looking at the Brixton riots and the anarchist community while everyone else on my course was making costume dramas.
My interest in politics led me to the London Action Resource Centre and 56a, then I came across Ian Bone’s Bash the Rich. I was on the fringes of the political scene and went to a few Class War meetings, mainly because they were in a pub and it was an excuse to have a pint with Ian.
I wanted to get involved with political work but things had been dead since the WOMBLES, so a few of us decided to form the Whitechapel Anarchist Group and it kind of became a big thing, bigger than it actually was. It gained a media reputation; really WAG was just a crew of good people that wanted to have fun. Radical politics had become so boring and sectarian that we just wanted to have fun, we learnt our politics as we did it, it was a good laugh.
Has politics influenced you films?
George Orwell was asked “Do you think art and politics should sometimes be separate”. Orwell’s answered “to even suggest that is a political argument”. For me film-making, media, culture, it’s used for political means. Everywhere we look from billboards to TV there is a continuing war of communication. I feel that as a film-maker I need to stand up and put ideas out there that can combat the dominant culture.
All you get now is a remake of Shakespeare, a rom com, a ‘how wonderful Britain is’ take on life. Films coming out about the Queen, Margaret Thatcher or the King’s lisp. They’re not critical, they don’t engage the audience into asking questions. If there’s a film set on an estate then it’s got to be a gangster film, working class youth depicted as violent stereotypes.
In my films I try to show real life, reflecting working class culture because there’s an authenticity there, even if it’s broken into little pockets. In The Plague a lot of my best actors were untrained, they were kids from those estates. If you’re making a story about kids from a gang, you might not be from that exact experience so getting an actor that is brings an authenticity and realism to it that does not exist in main stream cinema.
What do you see as the future of film?
Even though a lot is changing in terms of online distribution, you’re never going to get away from people wanting to come together and watch a film, which is what cinemas used to be. But, the multiplexes have been shutting down any sense of individuality in cinemas, they’re all showing the same films.
What really is lacking is the infrastructure for independent film-makers to work together to get their films out. You can put your film online, but without marketing no one will see it. At the same time a lot more people can make films, but that doesn’t mean a load of good films are coming out. A lot of people aren’t really saying anything, just making cheaper versions of the mainstream. As independent and underground filmmakers, we have to be telling stories that will engage an audience.
What’s your next project?
I’ve just shot a short film called Bruised which I co-wrote and co-produced with the main actor, Paul Marlon. It was made for under £100. It follows two characters, Mick and Ru. Mick takes part in illegal street fights, with Ru as his manger. We shot it in Dartford, a post-industrial white working class area. At points it’s very real, at points cinematic, at points very funny.
It was made just to get it out there, not looking to the film industry but trying to build a network with underground and independent film makers.
It’s going to have its world premiere on 11th May at the Bootleg film festival in Toronto, a film-maker-led festival. The UK premiere will be on 14th May at Write-Shoot-Cut in Edinburgh, with a London screening 18th May, and then going online on 19th May.
You can buy Greg’s films and follow his work at brokebutmakingfilms.wordpress.com
This interview originally appeared in Freedom, May 2012
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