What’s on at the Barbican in September? Including Channel 4 and the 1982 Workshop Declaration

Barbican Liner

As a rule, TMINE doesn’t normally cover events at the Barbican because they’re almost never TV-related. However, in September, they’ve organised themselves a little TV event, so I thought I’d give you some details.

The Television Will Be Revolutionised: Channel 4 and the 1982 Workshop Declaration

A season of oppositional documentaries from Channel 4’s first decade: a radical, game-changing era that opened doors for diverse voices in cinemas and on British television.

Channel 4 began life in 1981 with a remit to provide innovative broadcasting, and to challenge the mainstream BBC/ITV duopoly. Under the 1982 Workshop Declaration, the Channel agreed to fund and screen films from the ‘alternative’ film and video collectives – known as workshops.

Working closely with trade unions, Labour local authorities, political groups, women’s organisations and ethnic minority communities, by 1988, some 44 workshops had had films funded and screened by Channel 4.

So began a decade of experiment with politically progressive and aesthetically avant-garde documentaries and dramas screened on British television, which continued until 1990. The gateways had been opened to film-makers from diverse and regional backgrounds, and new voices found greater opportunities to share their stories.

Programme and booking details after the jump and these clips…

Thursday 13 September

19:00 Barbican Cinema 3
Acceptable Levels + panel discussion
UK 1983 Belfast Film Workshop/Frontroom Productions 100 min

The first feature to be made under the Workshop Declaration, Acceptable Levels is a meditation on the ethics of film-making, and a powerful critique of the media.

A BBC film crew is interviewing a ‘typical Catholic family’ in the Divis Flats area of Belfast, when news comes in that a child, known to the family, has been hit by a stray plastic bullet fired by a British soldier – a version of events contested by the army.

Back in London, editing the footage, the producer and researcher on the project wrestle with how to present the incident, and with their responsibility to the people in the film.

Before the screening, we welcome original members and others connected with the workshop movement, including Ellin Hare (Amber Films), Stewart Mackinnon (Trade Films), Menelik Shabazz (Ceddo Film and Video Workshop) and Caroline Spry (Sheffield Film Co-Op and Channel 4) to discuss the significance of the Workshop Declaration and its long-term impact on independent filmmaking.

The talk will include extracts from workshop productions, and is chaired by Andy Robson, who is currently researching the workshop movement.

Book tickets

Ticket prices

Standard: £12
Members: £9.60
Young Barbican: £5
Concessions: £11

Saturday 15 September

14:00 Barbican Cinema 3
Farewell to the Welfare State
UK 1986 Trade Films 53 min
+ Welcome to the Spiv Economy
UK 1986 Newsreel Collective 52 min

A double-bill of abrasively radical films by two workshops – Trade Films and Newsreel Collective – with strong links to local labour movements.

Newcastle-based Trade Films produced a quarterly video magazine, Northern Newsreel, for the labour movement. Tackling issues directly affecting working-class communities in the North East, often a central focus was the region’s manufacturing industries that were in decline. Farewell to the Welfare State examines the birth of the welfare system in the UK and its future under the Thatcher government.

Down in London, Newsreel Collective also made films about working-class life. Intended for use in political campaigns, their subjects included abortion, housing, and industrial action. Made during the industrial decline and rising unemployment of the 1980s, their Welcome to the Spiv Economy is a study of the burgeoning numbers of people in casual and temporary jobs – a reminder that the ‘gig’ or ‘spiv’ economy is not a new phenomenon.

Book tickets

Ticket prices

Standard: £10.50
Members: £8.40
Young Barbican: £5
Concessions: £9.50

Sunday 16 September

16:00 Barbican Cinema 3
Handsworth Songs
UK 1986 Black Audio Film Collective 61 min
+ Red Skirts on Clydeside
UK 1984 Sheffield Film Co-Op 40 min
+ Launch
UK 1974 Amber Films 10 min

A trio of films by left, feminist and black workshops, including Handsworth Songs, the celebrated film essay on race and disorder in Britain.

Some of the most successful workshops emerged from black and ethnic minority filmmakers, among them the trailblazing Black Audio Film Collective. Their Handsworth Songs premiered on Channel 4 in 1986, a year after the riots in Birmingham and London. Incorporating newsreel and archival material, the film’s multi-stranded narrative invites us to consider how mainstream news reduces complex events to problematic stereotypes.

Also screening, Red Skirts on Clydeside was produced by the all-women Sheffield Film Co-op about the rent strikes led by women in Glasgow in 1915; and Launch, by Newcastle-based Amber Film Workshop, who document the construction of the World Union oil tanker by focussing on heavy machinery, steam and noise: the scale of the endeavour, the solidarity of the workplace, and the community who depend on it.

Book tickets

Ticket prices

Standard: £10.50
Members: £8.40
Young Barbican: £5
Concessions: £9.50