Daniel Draper of Shut Out The Light Films writes about an upcoming production, Manifesto, which documents the activism of Walton CLP during the 2019 general election campaign…
“Weep not for the past, fear not the future.” – Percy Shelley
I have a strange relationship with the past. For years I dwelt on it. Strange, given I’ve more years ahead of me than behind. I’ve never been sure if this is a Liverpool thing either. We’re a nostalgic city, maybe overly nostalgic at times. Perhaps it’s the storytellers in us, who knows? These days I don’t care as much for the past; today has my attention, whilst there’s no definitive forecast for tomorrow.
Ironic, then, that I’m in the process of promoting and distributing a documentary that focuses on a lost election of three-years ago. It’s a hard sell. The film is called Manifesto and is about Walton Constituency Labour Party, the safest labour seat in the country.
The film was supposed to wrap in 2019, when we thought (naively, with hindsight) that the film’s climax would coincide with a Labour victory. That never transpired, leaving our narrative at a crossroads. The question was where the party would go from here. A number of activists from the film left the party not long after Keir Starmer’s appointment as leader, with further members being suspended or expelled.
That tells you how that played out.
With nothing seemingly positive occurring post 2019, we decided to introduce an additional character into Manifesto’s narrative. This not only allowed us to inject history and geography into the story, but to also conclude on a hopeful note. The character was Robert Tressell, the Irish author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, who’s buried in a pauper’s grave in Rice Lane City Farm. The past once again – it’s hard to outrun. However, Tressell’s presence in the film is as much about present and future struggles as it is about those of the past.
I’ve always found the balance between pessimism (the reality of living under Capitalism…) and optimism (… but we have a world to win) differs from activist to activist, so we had to ensure Manifesto’s conclusion fell on the side of optimism – almost working to the Tony Benn dictum: “There are two flames burning in the human heart all the times. The flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope you can build a better world.”
I might add that this also has nothing to do with our filmmaking, but is due to the endurance of activists who continue to fight for working-class communities, despite the never-ending hurdles.
Manifesto is not a celebration of the Labour Party, or even Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure, but is a testament to grassroots activism. The film serves to recognise labour over Labour. Activists put hundreds of hours and miles into the 2017 and 2019 elections – labour now lost and forgotten. It’s a film that exists now and will into the future – a chronicle of endeavour, as well as hope.
It’s a micro-budget protest film that’s punching way above it’s weight in terms of exposure (a selected UK cinema release from June 16th) and that alone is a victory. It’s a rare thing; a film by working-class filmmakers about their own community. Whether people connect with Manifesto or not, there’s a genuine attachment between the camera and the subjects, which I think is the true strength of the film. Others may see this as a downfall, but I believe objectivity has no place in documentaries. However, that’s a whole other debate.
The film concludes at the graveside of Robert Tressell – a scene I’ve now watched a hundred-times, which still draws me in. The activists discuss present and future battles with steely determination and as someone who spent the first 25-years of my life in the area, I find it reassuring to know such people will always continue to fight for such communities.
Maybe the Shelley quote I opened with is optimistic in terms of not fearing the future. Especially when it appears we live in a one party state – with Labour only winning three-elections since 1974, all coming due to Blair’s dart to the right – but the future is the only place where we can make advancements through what we do today. There will be more set backs and attacks on the poorest in society, but we must somehow retain hope in tomorrow.
I also think the Shelley quote has a huge emphasis on the present – the past has gone whilst the future will always be that, the future. That leaves us in the here-and-now where Capitalism reigns and the most vulnerable in society continue to suffer. The past should not to be dwelt on, but learned from. Where does Manifesto fit in this landscape? To be released in under two-weeks, the film will bring people with shared experiences together in the present, whilst we discuss what tomorrow holds.
Manifesto premieres at FACT on 16th June 2022. Tickets here: https://www.fact.co.uk/film/manifesto-q-a