Mike Simons, Executive Producer, shares his thoughts on 30 years since the end of the strike.
Thirty years ago this week I remember crying quietly to myself as I watched Armthorpe march back to work. The whole community came out onto the street and everyone there must have had the same fear about what the future would bring. As a journalist I spent a year with this community and their heartbreak was also mine.
It seemed there was a simple choice – give up – your principles and everything you’d fought for from the beginning of the strike, or fight on, which is what the miners did.
That day I decided that, for the miners, history wouldn’t be written by the victors, and that the miners would have their say. Thirty years on, I feel we have done that with our film Still the Enemy Within.
The film speaks to, and speaks for, every man and woman who was active throughout the 1984-85 strike. It also speaks to, and for, all those who were too young to remember or who weren’t even born, but who rage against the state of Britain today.
I have spoken at dozens of screenings of Still the Enemy Within over the last six months and renewed some cherished friendship and met some wonderful young activists. Each screening has been an emotional roller coaster. There have been some fierce and vital debates in the Q&As. Best of all though, each screening has fuelled the audience’s determination to fight back against the current government.
Thirty years on, our film has helped recapture a part of history that the politicians, the establishment and the media wanted us to forget. It is time to write another chapter.
The last 12 months has been an amazing experience for Still The Enemy Within team. From still filming in January to winning the Sheffield Docfest Audience Award in June and ending the year have screened in over 80 venues.
Since our premiere in Leicester Square at the start of October, the film has been on tour around the UK. We have screened the film over a 100 times and taken part in 72 Q&As. It has been exhausting at times, but the response to the film and the people we have met on our travels have made it an unforgettable experience. It has been a whirlwind of political discussion, emotional reactions, personal stories and service station sandwiches. As the end of the year approaches, we thought we share some more highlights of the tour.
The London premiere was the first stop of the tour. Showing the film in Leicester Square was a big thrill for us all and to sell-out two weeks in advance just added to the excitement. With Billy Bragg and Mark Thomas, to name just two famous faces in the audience, it was a nerve-wracking experience waiting to see how people would react to the screening but the response to the film was fantastic and the Q&A afterwards with the team, Owen Jones and Jeremy Hardy was insightful as well as being a lot of fun. It was probably the most glamorous of all our screenings and was followed by celebrations late into the night.
This was followed quickly by the Welsh premiere at the Market Hall cinema in Brynmawr, another early highlight of the tour. Not only were we screening in Wales’s oldest cinema, in a mining heartland but the audience was led into the screening by a Silver band, with miners’ banners, and at the front was Ron Stoate one of the miners in our film! As we mentioned in our previous blog, this was also the screening where we were handed a tally as thanks for our work so it will go down as one to remember for a long time. The screening was followed by a fantastic Q&A, which could probably still be going on now if we hadn’t finished it!
We spent the first couple of weeks of the tour in the south of England, with screenings in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton with a couple of forays up to Manchester and to Wales. Screenings were packed-out and we had some seriously lively Q&A’s. It was really interesting to hear the thoughts of people too young to have been directly affected by the strike, but who could still see the resonance of the strike in the world today. It was vital for us that the film was a universal tale, that if you didn’t know about the strike, you could still engage with the story and it was great to see this approach had paid off. The amount of younger people who came up to us after the screenings and said that it was a part of history they didn’t know about, but now want to learn more was staggering.
The tour then moved north to Yorkshire the North East and then to Scotland, where the response was just as enthusiastic. Showing the film in the heartlands of the strike was really important to us. Hearing people who had lived through the strike, say that this was a true account of their experience was very moving. A big part of why we made the film was to try and give a voice to those who had been airbrushed from history and to hear people say ‘that’s what it was like’ was a strong vindication of the film.
By early/mid November we had finished traveling all around the north of England and central Scotland. We moved onto the midlands, showing the film Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Derby to name a few. What was amazing was that the more screenings we did, the word of mouth spread and the more screenings we were asked to do. Local communities started to organise screenings in their areas in miners’ welfare and community spaces. We had more packed screenings in London and Yorkshire, including a fantastic night at Rich Mix with Lesbian and Gays Miners support group which included an exhibition by photographers from Reportdigital.co.uk, where we raised nearly 200 for the FBU strikers.
Throughout our release, the backbone of these screenings have been the amazing people who run, volunteer and work for community and independent cinemas up and down the country. Some of the most memorable venues alongside Market Hall in Wales include the Moston Small Cinema in Manchester, which is built in the old bath house of a mine that shut down in the 1940’s. The Hippodrome in Bo’Ness in Scotland, a fantastic old cinema, restored to its former glory, with beautiful ornate fixtures and fittings, The Hebden Bridge Picture House that provides chocolate, flowers and mugs of tea for its Q&A guests. The Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford, so tiny, its box office is on the street and the inside looks almost the same as it did 20 years ago and The NO. 6 Cinema in Portsmouth, based on the shape of a ship with the largest screen we have seen in a very long time!
We also couldn’t have made the film and screened in so many places with the support of the crew and others who worked behind the scenes, often above and beyond the call of duty. Finally it would have been impossible without all the people who have championed the film, from way back when we first started crowd funding, to those who made it their mission to organise screenings in their local community.
The biggest lesson from the tour and the film is what fantastic things you can achieve when ordinary people get together. The New Year is already packed with community screenings and special events, as well as the film making its international debut in Toronto at Hot Docs. Until then we wish everyone a Merry Holiday and Happy New Year!
Although all our screenings have been fantastic, there have been some extra special moments that have really stuck out for us. Check out the team’s blog post where they share their best bits so far:
Owen Gower, director: The thing I’ve loved most about the Still The Enemy Within tour is seeing the way in which audiences have engaged with the film in an active way. At our first London preview screening in The Frontline Club, it was brilliant to have a 16 year old student come up to me afterwards to say ‘I loved the film, now what do I do to change things?’ Or to hear a woman say that as a result of the film, she was going to go out the next day to protest in support of the NHS. She even tweeted me the next day to say she’d done just that!
It’s something that seems to have happened everywhere we go and I’ve had some amazing conversations with people after the film. It was a particular honour for me to chat with Roger Graef and John Pilger after the screening at the Barbican and to hear how much they’d enjoyed the film. So, touring the film with Q&A’s has made active participation a two way street – the audience hears from us and we have the pleasure of hearing straight back from them. The whole thing is really direct, which has been very rewarding.
Mark Lacey, Producer: Touring the film around the country has been such an exciting and interesting experience. It has allowed us to meet the audience and discuss not only the way we made the film, but the politics and issues raised – as well as seeing and hearing people’s immediate, often very emotional, reaction to the film.
One highlight for me was the Welsh premiere at the Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr. Firstly the audience was lead into the screening by a Silver band, with miners’ banners being carried by one of the miners who features in the film, Ron Stoat. To hear the music and see over 200 people marching in to see a film you have been part of was amazing. After the screening we had a fantastic Q&A, which could probably still be going on now if we hadn’t finished it!
Just before the Q&A, as the film finished, we were standing at the front of the cinema getting ready. A man came up to me and grabbed my hand, saying with a tear in his eye how much he enjoyed it. He pushed a gold circular object into my hand and thanked me for making the film. I didn’t realise until later that he had given me a Tally, a metal circle with a hole in the middle and the name of a pit and its number on it. This was hung up by miners as they went on shift, so people knew who was down the pit and could keep track of them. I never got to hear the man’s name or see him afterwards, but for the film to move him enough to give me such a personal memento was an incredibly special moment. It is something I will remember for a long time.
Sinead Kirwan, Producer: For me, there have been three stand-out moments of the release so far. The first was seeing the long queue for the film outside The Rio Cinema in Dalston. As a Hackney girl born and bred, my first memory of going to the cinema is being dropped off at the Rio kids club on a Saturday morning. It has a very special place my heart. To come back to the Rio, to a packed screening of a film I produced, was incredible.
The second was when we were approached by a young woman after the Liverpool screening to say that her dad was the Docker we feature in our film. It then transpired that the cinema manager who hosted our Q&A was in fact the same Dockers’ niece and apparently he was still as political as ever, which was amazing to hear!
The third stand-out moment was the pleasure of visiting the Moston Community Cinema in Manchester. Louis and Paula, who run The Moston and are a great team, have done an fantastic job turning the old burnt out miners bath house/social club into a vibrant and engaging venue. Their passion for their community was inspiring. I really hope we get a chance to go back soon!
Bad Bonobo Statement Ritzy Dispute absolutely condemns the actions of Picturehouse in announcing redundancies at the Ritzy Cinema. It is a clear attack on people who organise for fair pay. We are glad to see that Picturehouse appear to have backed down on their initial proposal. However, we want to ensure Picturehouse and owners Cineworld keep the promises made during the dispute, so, with the agreement of the Ritzy workers, we are going to donate 50% of our takings from our screening at the Greenwich Picturehouse to the Ritzy campaign, to be used as a potential strike fund. We are also inviting the Ritzy Workers to speak at the post-show discussion on 12th Nov at our Greenwich screening. We are 100% behind the Ritzy campaign for a fair wage and hope that Picturehouse stick to the pledges they made earlier this year.