making 'BECOMING', a documentary
The Struggle to be Honest and to Inform
I’m making a documentary about young people’s views of the world. I have interviewed 35 people since March from eleven years old to early thirties, with most being in their young twenties. Soon I will interview a group of intelligent, caring and concerned students from a university in upper New York state, and have already interviewed people from Finland to Mozambique and from Ireland to Kurdistan. These conversations/interviews have been revealing about the similarities of confusion, doubts and fears they share, as well as the hopes they cling to.
I have been profoundly moved by the interviewee’s cares and concerns, their wisdom and their desire for peace, kindness and love to pervade the world they want to live in.
Isaiah Berlin, the English philosopher, spoke of the humane intelligentsia that survived Lenin, “that the young people are imaginative, civilized, honest, humane, spontaneous – they want to live and let live and they’ve great faith in human decency and goodness.” That is what I think of those I have encountered.
THE FORK IN THE PATH
In making this documentary there are conflicting approaches, ideas and facts to be reconciled. Do I simply show what I record, edited to make a story out of many random pieces of information, or do I insinuate my analysis into what is being said?
It is clear to me that many people I speak with or interview are not well informed about the realities of power and wealth that surround them. Whilst they make forays into analysis, it is often nurtured by the same cultural organs that blind them from the truth.
But why must it be that people should know the intricacies of the shadowed world of power? It should not be incumbent upon every citizen to understand the politics and economics that run the world, but unfortunately it is this lack of knowledge that allows a morally bankrupt ruling class to twist our lives into a form that suits their power and their wealth.
Of course, to work and live in truth, I must admit that whilst my analysis is based in many events I’ve witnessed and the many books and articles I’ve studied, it is none the less subjective. I can only hope that my subjective understanding can be closely aligned to objective reality. That is a leap of faith.
So, what do I do? Use the poetry of texts, sounds and images to emotionally touch the viewer while disregarding the more studied analysis as I risk boring people with facts and stats, or because it makes people feel they are being lectured?
I have made over 40 documentaries and still struggle with this question. A friend of mine said it’s a reflection of my professorial academic side in conflict with my artistic side.
The complexity of this can be read in the following short essay, but I warn you, it is politics on the nose.
THE HIDDEN STUFF
To begin, this it what so many people now sense, as well as even conservative economists, that the Neoliberal Capitalist economic system is failing because:
•The .05% extracts far more wealth out of the nuts-and-bolts productive economy than other ruling powers in the past, leaving employees further behind because their wages have been frozen since the mid-eighties (in relation to the cost of living and taxation), even while computerization had increased output and efficiency.
•That working people are left further behind because inflation raises the cost of food, fuel, power and medical treatment, and that there are new and increasing costs for education and everyday living.
•They are left further behind because taxes have been raised and now interest is rising.
•They are left even further behind as services like youth clubs, libraries and care centres have been closed.
There are three reasons for this:
•First, Neoliberalism as a systemic ideology, works only in favour of the wealthy. It has never been explained to the people, nor offered as an alternative to the UK Labour Party’s or Roosevelt’s post World War Two social democratic welfare state, run to benefit a fairer, kinder society via government spending. Simply put, we should have been asked, ‘do we prefer to have more things, or to share the communal wealth in ways that help the underserved’? This is as much a moral as it is a financial question.
•The Neoliberals have abandoned the 17th century founders of Liberalism who understood and advised the bourgeoisie that to maintain a stable society it would be necessary to share the nation’s wealth to allow the middle and working classes sufficient wages to have a decent life. This new lot, partly created by Thatcher, are way too greedy and are blind to the traditional ideas of sharing and service.
•The huge wealth accrued by the corporate CEOs, bankers, and rentier classes have allowed them access to political power through purchasing loyalty via donations to politicians and political parties. This means that they have been able to suggest and write the bills they want passed and to stop those they don’t want passed. It has also meant that they have been given access to the railway system, the water, oil, gas and electricity supply and to the generation of electricity. These sell-offs to friends and influential parties is a clear sign of corrupt crony-capitalism.
•Most of these bills and handouts are to do with lowering taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations, providing ‘corporate welfare’ consisting of 'official' subsidies, capital grants, tax benefits, hidden transport subsidies, insurance and advocacy, additional energy subsidies and procurement subsidies. In the UK they are estimated to be worth around £93bn per year. They include some of the best-known names in Britain, as Amazon, Ford and Nissan. This is called SOCIALISM FOR THE RICH. At the same time, the Tory government want to reduce social welfare by £12bn.
PILFERING OUR POCKETS AND LOWERING THE TONE
The Guardian newspaper’s recent analysis revealed that hidden subsidies, direct grants and tax breaks to big business amount to £3,500 a year given by each UK household. Essentially this is a way the state, via the purchased politicians, helps to extract money from the working people to siphon it upwards to the wealthy.
•All the above is about laissez-faire capitalism or what is called a ‘free market’ which is anything but free, given its dominance by huge transnational corporations.
•The above is what austerity was about and now what price-rise gouging is about.
While inequality increases, anger and discontent infect the population who, on their own, find it difficult to clearly see this dire plan of the .05%, which is further obscured by the media and the political class. As we have witnessed with Johnson, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi, Orban and others, everyday they were/are in office they lower the threshold of our humanity, and what is acceptable in the realm of politics and in a civilized society.
In desperation, people search for answers. This is where the strongman-ultra right totalitarian steps in and offers to clean the swamp while uniting people around a surrogate enemy – the OTHER who may be that family of a different colour, religion, language group or culture living down the street, as if some how they are to blame for the housing shortage, lowering wages, witless dead-end jobs, the lack of medical care and so on.
Meanwhile, the left always seems incapable of discovering a voice to speak to the people directly, to create an egalitarian populism which clearly argues for the need to bring change through people coming together to challenge the corporate structure, the corruption, and our anti-democratic representatives. I believe this reveals that at the very centre of left-wing thinking are two problems: that they worry about the people demanding real democracy which they fear would lead to anarchy, and second, that they cannot overcome their middleclass acceptance of the neoliberal aspiration for personal wealth and power.
With this above analysis being so wordy, it is difficult to imagine that a documentary can encompass even a part of this while engaging the audience in the emotional lives of the young speakers.
AND THE WINNER IS…
If you have got this far in your reading, you can imagine how knowing the above is angry making, precisely because billions of lives are limited, damaged or ruined by the ahistorical avarice of this most recent ruling class.
I’ll figure it out, but my instinct tells me that art rather than analysis will win out, because art is open, complex, emotionally invigorating and stands a better chance to engage people in what otherwise might seem a finger-wagging lecture.