The act of creating art is inherently political. Those who put paint to canvas are disseminating images that are loaded with associative potency. Some artists do their best to conceal this political commitment by emphasising they are solely concerned with aesthetic splendour (see: Vivid Festival). Others choose to be more upfront – to critique, reconcile and express their nascent political intentions by starting dialogues through confrontational art.
In this way, art has a role at the heart of communal empowerment, resistance and healing. However, when art becomes mostly consumed through individual practices (see: on the laptop, in bed), its liberatory potential comes under threat.
Seeking to counter this trend, our diverse group of students and activists is curating a program of documentary screenings that we hope may help to underscore the potential of liberatory art, and to help create networks of solidarity and political engagement.
Cinema Politica (CP) is an organisation founded in Montreal in 2004, and is dedicated to screening independent, radical, activist documentaries to the public for free. From a small student organisation at Concordia University it has blossomed into the largest volunteer-run, community- and campus-based documentary screening program in the world, with almost 100 active branches (‘locals’) around the world. While there are branches in Perth and Auckland, there are none in Sydney: enter our new collective, Cinema Politica Sydney.
Two of our collective members, Anna and Andrew, discovered Cinema Politica while on exchange in Montreal. Every Monday night, a screening is held in a lecture theatre at Concordia University, attended by many hundreds of people. The diverse program of films covers topics from decolonisation to the police state, food distribution and reproductive justice. The documentary acts as a springboard for talks and discussion after the screenings, which are often attended by the film’s director. CP is a rich site within the Montreal community, drawing diverse crowds of people and engaging them in political discussion around shared interests.
Documentary filmmaking sits uniquely at the intersection of art and narrative journalism. The continued loosening of genre convention between factual recount and creative introspection has enabled people to use documentary as a potent medium for empowering voices to tell their own stories in manners freed of established & colonial rules. By reclaiming the capacity to speak on their own terms, the stories told are truer to experience than is possible in any investigative journalistic piece.
Documentary is increasingly becoming a democratic & widely accessible medium for those interested in producing it. The advent of smartphones with high quality video recording, and low-cost hand held cameras has accelerated this democratisation. Works such as Simon Baker’s Tangerine (2015), shot entirely on iPhone 5, which follows two transgender sex workers over the course of a night in Los Angeles, and director/cinematographer/cameraman Hajooj Kuka’s essential South Sudanese documentary Beats of the Antanov (2015), attest to this.
Our first program will focus on efforts to decolonise and counter patriarchal violence in Australia and around the globe. We will screen recent works by local Indigenous folk, as well as some of the most innovative and powerful documentaries from around the world.
Sydney is home to a wonderful array of activists and grassroots organisations working towards social change. We want to create a space to facilitate discussions and strengthen connections between these activists, organisations and the broader community. We believe it is especially important to link the documentaries we watch and the discussions we have to concrete actions – for example, using the Cinema Politica community to help raise funding for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and for communities facing closure in Western Australia.
If our program appeals to you, please help us make it happen and come to our fundraiser party! We will be hosting a night of film screenings, talks and live music at the Monster Mouse warehouse space in Marrickville on the 21st of August. Come with an open mind, your dancing shoes, and a willingness to extend your social & political network!
The Cinema Politica Sydney Collective