Seeing the bigger picture with Riot From Wrong. Photo: William79, reproduced under a CC license.
In a pop-up cinema under a Westway archway in London’s Portobello, the audience are getting heated up after watching an astonishingly powerful and provocative documentary on what the British media have called the ‘London Riots’.
‘Next time, don’t go after the shops, burn down the police stations,’ shouts an audience member during the question and answer session following the screening. One of the panel answers calmly: ‘When I started working on the film, I felt the same, but now, I don’t agree; I think it’s about people power, grassroots movements, what we are calling the Million Youth Movement.’
I feel I am witnessing something seminal. The youth movement that many hoped to see rise out of our deeply oppressed and robbed younger generation, seems to be shaping itself through the work of the filmmakers on the panel. They seem to be articulating a way forward that neither bends to the will of mainstream society or a government that has sold them out, nor loses itself in bitter fury. If the police in Tottenham had been this fair, this balanced, this wise, the ‘riots’ would never have happened.
The audience and panel are predominantly young and their politics are immediate, visceral and far more relevant than any ‘edgy’ broadsheet journalists. The documentary, Riot From Wrong, is the result of a unique collective, some hailing from the north London estates that spawned the civil unrest a year ago in London. The disorder was in reaction to the police shooting of Mark Duggan and the consequent failure of the police to provide any immediate information to his family explaining the circumstances of his death.
The Fully Focused Productions community that put together the documentary is comprised of 19 people, five of whom are over 24. The fact that the great majority of them are so young is as inspiring as the documentary itself.
This is not some patronizing ‘Big Society’ initiative where young people are given the opportunity for a creative project, which is ultimately helmed and edited by adults and neutered of any genuine youth voice.
Riot From Wrong started with a group of young people, from across London, meeting in a Tottenham estate, deciding that they wanted to capture the genuine voice of the people who were involved and to counter the media and government hysterics that rushed to label the ‘rioters’ as ‘feral youth.’
As some of these young people were from the same community, they were able to access the kinds of interviews and footage that only locals would have been trusted with. It is a deeply accomplished, penetrating and balanced documentary that redresses the knee-jerk rhetoric of the coalition government and mainstream media.
Myths are busted adeptly: 41 per cent of the ‘rioting youth’ were in fact adults, the police were never shot at by Duggan, the bullet found lodged in a police officer’s mobile phone was consistent with a police issue Heckler and Koch assault rifle and Duggan had no criminal record.
Riot From Wrong is a stand out documentary for its daring enquiry and the freshness of its composition. The Fully Focused community has set a very high standard for future productions. They are out for the truth, out to challenge basic assumptions, out for genuine change and most importantly, they are a viable and solid platform for the voice of young people to be heard with dignity and taken seriously. This is at odds with the current climate of demonizing youth and ignoring what they have to say. At one point, Michael Mansfield QC states: ‘Young people are being told, “Shut Up, Sit Down, Go Away.”’
What the collective are calling the Million Youth Movement has great potential to change this truly reprehensible state of affairs. As one member of the panel said, ‘If the government won’t listen to us as individuals, they will listen to us as a million voices.’
Riot From Wrong is currently on a tour of Britain. For more information, please go to the film’s website. Twitter: @riotfromwrong
Look out for the New Internationalist special youth issue, guest edited by Jody McIntyre, coming this October.