One Year & Many Ideas: Occupy Cinema


Today marks the one year anniversary of the Occupy Movement, as well as the Occupy Cinema Movement, which I first wrote about here. If you follow the link to my original piece you’ll find that many of websites I linked to are dead and abandoned, which is a shame. The Occupy Cinema Movement originally had some great intentions and I thought it was one of the most interesting, creative, viable and sustainable ideas that emerged from the Occupy Movement but there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in supporting it or expanding it. Aggressive political activism and attempts to effect social change with cinema are issues that modern filmmakers as well as critics, film scholars and many of my fellow film bloggers, generally avoid. But using film projection in protest is an idea that I still think is worth exploring and discussing.

The most noteworthy person currently using guerrilla-style projection as an activism tool is Mark Read, who is best known for projecting a giant “Bat Signal” with illuminated text like “99%” “Another World is Possible” and “Don’t Be Afraid” on New York’s Verizon building while thousands of demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on November 17, 2011. Read’s creative protest was one of the most important & powerful moments in Occupy’s complicated history but it wasn’t his last. He’s currently trying to raise money and awareness by asking supporters to donate to a Kickstarter campaign that will help fund the Illuminator project and keep it running. The goal of the Illuminator project is to gain enough funds to help buy and maintain a number of Illuminator vans that will be equipped with powerful projectors that will allow them to participate in various protests in different locations across the US. It’s an ambitious idea and one well worth supporting. Read and his crew recently used one of the Illuminator vans to protest the arrest & imprisonment of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot by projecting “Free Pussy Riot” on the Russian Consulate building in New York.

If the Occupy Cinema movement wants to survive it will have to follow Mark Read’s lead. I like imagining a world where Occupy Cinema activists are able to buy & maintain mobile theaters much like these Mobile Drive-In Theaters or even the somewhat limiting Cinetransformers that seat nearly 100 audience members. That way they could easily participate in various protests across the country or create their own politically minded events. Imagine hundreds of mobile drive-ins rolling into towns across the country and sharing films that promoted a cause, illuminated particular ideas or documented history for free. This is just one idea and it would take money to fund these mobile cinemas but like Mark Read, other Occupy Cinema leaders could turn to Kickstarter and social media sites for help as well as reach out to various organizations. Of course it would also be extremely helpful if more filmmakers, critics, scholars and even bloggers supported the idea of Occupy Cinema.

I personally think the arts are the world’s most effective tools for promoting change. No political speech can match the impact of hearing Bob Dylan sing “The Times They Are a-Changin” or Bob Marley and the Wailers belting out “Get Up, Stand Up.” No political pamphlet can possibly be as effective as Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and no campaign ad can compare to the experience of watching John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath or Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. The transformative powers of cinema are limitless but reaching a receptive audience isn’t easy. Occupy Cinema has the potential to promote positive change but it can’t do that without lots of support.

Unfortunately mainstream news programs have stopped covering the Occupy Movement even though pockets of it are still very active and alternative news sources have shifted much of their focus to other topics such as the current election. Out of site means out of mind in today’s frenzied news cycle and as attention spans continue to shrink it’s important that anyone involved or interested in Occupy Cinema maintain a visible presence online as well as on the ground. Of course this can be difficult when a movement isn’t run by conventional means. Like the original Occupy Movement, which frustrated journalists trying to pigeonhole it, Occupy Cinema seems to be a collective idea that welcomes all kinds of participants with different motivations and varying degrees of participation. But being active on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube is important and promoting events like the recent Occupy Film Festival in New York is vital so that the ideas behind Occupy Cinema can survive and thrive even if its initial participants lose interest. Hopefully the one year anniversary of the Occupy Movement will help revitalize the concept of Occupy Cinema and encourage future activities and events that help promote change. Or at the very least, it might remind us of how powerful cinema and the projected image can be while inspiring us to find ways we can use cinema to provoke social and political change in our own lives.

Further Reading & Viewing:
Occupy’s ‘bat signal’ tries to keep the movement in spotlight by Peter Rugh
“Occupy Bat Signal” Artist Returns With “Occupy Batmobile,” Codenamed “The Illuminator” by Benjamin Sutton
The Illuminator official site
Occupy artists take message to streets from BBC News
Occupy the Film Festival by Michelle Chen
Occupy Cinecittà – Workers of the Italian film industry protest as the famous studios of Cinecittà in Rome face closure after a disastrous privatization from Struggles In Italy
Occupy Cinema on Vimeo
Magnificent Revolution promoting ‘Bicycle Powered Cinema’ in the UK

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