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A stunning effort and devotion to a cause was displayed by the Leeds Anarchist Black Cross ( http://leedsabc.org/) this weekend in the form of Leeds Antifascist Film Festival.
An early start on an icy cold Saturday morning had me pleasantly surprised when entering the Space Project ( http://spaceproject.org.uk/) on Mabgate Green in Leeds. Not only were my temperature induced preconceptions of poor turnout wrong, the welcome from organisers and general atmosphere in this make shift cinema/board room was in complete juxtaposition to the grippingly brisk conditions.
Technical teething problems at the outset made it possible for the purchase of a warming tea and vegan cake (the likes of which you can’t buy at Starbucks!) as well as a chance to have a chat with my fellow festival-goers. After some technical tinkering we were all seated for the first film; a Polish-made documentary, ‘Auschwitz – Recollections of Prisoner 1327’, a dramatic account of life on one of the most infamous concentration camps, told through the memories of Kazimir Smolen. Smolen was said to be the world’s most foremost authority on German concentration camps and played an imperative role in Nazi war crimes trials. A smart move for film number one, for me at least: a refresher course in Western Fascism 101.
A smooth transition was made from looking back at Auschwitz Birkenau to its social significance today. Javaad Alipoor gave us a talk about how he and his organisation had educated West Yorkshire teenagers about the atrocities by taking them to the scene of the crime in Oswiecim Poland. Javaad spoke mainly of his work with young people and giving them an insight into political ideologies. In an entertaining and anecdotal fashion, he spoke of the sensationalisation and the ‘emotional blackmail’ occurring at the camp today and preached the other side of Auschwitz, with a large amount of audience participation the talk is well worth a listen and can be found here - http://sheffield.indymedia.org.uk/2012/02/491918.html
After more tea and refreshments organisers presented the 2001 film ‘Conspiracy’, a chilling true story and recreation of the Wannsee Conference where the Nazi Final Solution phase of the Holocaust was devised.
As the snow started to fall, the bleak outlook outside was mirrored by the stark portrayal of the ‘Edelweiss Pirates’ in the 2004 film of the same name. The film follows the story of a group of young Edelweiss Pirates, youngsters in Germany opposed to the Hitler youth, in Cologne. Beautifully shot this wartime film puts a face to the resistance of German youth.
‘The 43 Group’ was the next short documentary shown and told the story of the young Jewish servicemen and women returning from the war to see fascism rearing its ugly head on their own streets. The documentary mainly featured interviews from those now elderly people. Although the viewer can’t help but feel an endearing emotional response to oldies, the film’s messages shine through and remind us that these senior citizens were heroes of their time do not conform to the fallacy of their cutesy ageist stereotype.
Next on the bill – Antifascist recollections from the 1970s. Recited by an event organiser were the unpublished memoirs of imprisoned antifascists involved in antifascist actions. Taking place in various locations around the country, colourful events were described in equally colourful language.
A guest presenter was next ushered to front of stage to convey his personal recollection of an event later referred to as ‘The Welling Case.’ With visual aids and concise articulation of the scene the speaker prescribed to the audience his side of the story and outlined how 22 antifascists were prosecuted on ‘trumped-up conspiracy charges’ and how 2 remain imprisoned. He explained how in the process of the trial, an antifascist organisation was shut down and how the 2009 incident was a perfect example of “politically motivated prosecution”.
By about 6.30 the beer was now flowing and the general ambience was one of a more fun and easy going nature as we sat down to watch ‘Spinach Fer Britain’ ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHo91px5YTs), a Pop-Eye cartoon unreleased at the time and place of its making: 1943 “neutral” America, due to its propagandistic nature, but was released finally in 2003.
Following on in the same spirits was top antifascist comedian Bod Green; this one-man humour mill had his audience in fits of laughter for the duration of his boisterous animated act, reminiscent of an antifascist Ross Noble. Bod littered his set with anecdotes, original humour and some genuine 1930s nuggets of hilarity.
Saturday ended with final film ‘The Army of Crime’, for which most of the audience stayed. Described as “the real Inglorious Bastards”, this French war-drama is based on a true story and follows a young group of Parisian rebels who, dubbed by the Nazis as “The Army Of Crime”, fight against the Nazi occupation, ending with their own demise.
A later start on Sunday saw many of the same faces arriving for first film ‘Land and Freedom’. Directed by British indie filmmaker Ken Loach, ‘Land and Freedom’ is a film based around the Spanish Civil War and follows fictitious protagonist, David, from his scouse roots to fight for his communist beliefs in a war-stricken Spain.
Organisers at the festival had taken the time to research and reiterate each film’s plot and described themes and a social backdrop to the audience before beginning each film. Leading onto the next feature this practice was duplicated and a fair and insightful introduction was also given to documentary ‘Living Utopia, The Anarchists & The Spanish Revolution’, further entrenching the theme of Spanish Fascism within Sunday’s mantra.
With the room filling up, the Leeds Anarchist Black Cross and organisers of the event took the chance to give a short talk about what their organisation stands for. The articulate female speaker started with who they are trying to help. The list mainly consists of imprisoned antifascists who need help from the outside and other antifascist organisations. She moved on to how money is raised, describing methods from literature and letter writing to music nights and events. Finally she concluded with a notion of how the organisation is looking forward and noted the essential nature of their website and other digital channels such as social networking. After the presentation I managed to collar the speaker to delve a little deeper, particularly on the nature of their philanthropy. She explained that funds generated go to the publication of pamphlets and other literature with the initiative of bringing political language down from an academic elite to speak to a wider audience in the hope of wider audience participation. Another big push for the organisation is simply writing to those who are imprisoned and showing solidarity and compassion to those who may have lost hope. If you want to be involved in the scheme or write to any of the political prisoners mentioned, you can here - http://leedsabc.org/21-2/prisoner-list/
A full room of antifascists met for the next feature film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Venturing further into the Spanish Civil War theme, this modern visual masterpiece enthralled its audience, which I imagine is usually the case in any circumstance. A chilling story set against the backdrop of a fascist regime in 1944 rural Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth ( http://www.panslabyrinth.co.uk/) is a stunning piece of cinematic gold. Despite its fantastic nature, one cannot brush past the veins of political oppression and trust me on this; it’s not for kids!
Livening up the room was an all-inclusive effort on the Dead Fascist Quiz. After a whole weekend learning about fascism I thought I may be in with a good chance on this but scored a measly 1 ½ out of 20! The winning score was 14 and prizes were received.
Rounding off the day and the festival was ‘To The Barricades!’ – the musical soundings of Mr Javaad Alipoor. His multi-cultural, multi-lingual musical expression of a political stance was impressive to say the least. This antifascist bard and band of merry men brought us both musically accompanied and a cappella anthems in French, Italian, Persian and Arabic as well as some well known English and Irish tunes. The talented musician demanded crowd participation and was not disappointed!
For me, the most pleasing impression left was the diversity of attendees to the festival and how the organisers had shrewdly put together a list of activities and features that would weld us together as a group, not to mention keeping us all warm, fed and watered throughout the weekend! I felt a real sense of community had been generated within a makeshift, former industrial space in a small corner of a progressively snow covered Leeds. The organisers were very thankful to all attendees and all the donations and money raised through the selling of books, clothing, food and drink as well as all signatures on cards to their politically imprisoned comrades. A resounding success.
Read more about the Leeds Anarchist Black Cross and their thoughts on the event here - http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/02/492027.html