Films about direct action
When Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest a controversial extradition bill proposed by China in 2019, it exposed the tensions long brewing in the city. Over two days of conflict, Hong Kong Moments follows a pro-democracy protester, a tea-shop owner, a paramedic, a cab driver, a police officer, and two politicians with conflicting politics as the demonstrations shoehorn the political into the personal. On September 21, 2019, protestors from three districts join forces, resulting in unprecedented violence. Just 10 days later on October 1, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, previously undecided onlookers show their stripes. Thoughts transform into action in this demonstration of how mercurial and personal Hong Kong’s politics have become.
Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle, and ended in 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, advertising—all of which deeply show how television has shaped the world of today. Remarkably prescient, Marion knew this, and saved it as a form of activism, knowing that archiving everything that was said and shown on television was part of the fight for the truth and historical memory, keeping those in power accountable. At the time, the public didn’t know it, but TV networks themselves were not keeping archives of their material, with huge swathes of recorded history lost. If it wasn’t for Marion, and the Internet Archive that will soon digitise her tapes for prosperity and free public access, these records would be lost forever. This film is about a radical Communist activist, who became a fabulously wealthy recluse archivist, and whose work was unorthodox, but also genius, even though she would pay a profound price for dedicating her life to such a visionary project.
In 2015, peaceful protests and destructive riots erupted when Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American, died in police custody in Baltimore, United States. While the city waited to see the fate of the six police officers involved in the incident, who were all ultimately not punished, Baltimore Rising shows activists, police officers, community leaders, and gang affiliates, who struggled to hold the city together, as the homicide rate hit record levels. The death of Gray by police catalysed the longstanding fault lines in a distraught community, damaged by corruption and inequality. Baltimore Rising chronicles the determined efforts of people on all sides who are working to make their community better, sometimes coming together in unexpected ways.
The setting is in the current and ongoing troubling police culture of violence, profiling and racism. Even a former NYPD officer now breaks ranks to say that the force aggressively targets poor and minority communities in order to meet secret and illegal arrest quotas. The result is a level of systemic harassment and brutality that could be hard to demonstrate, if not for growing groups of Cop Watchers—everyday citizens wielding cameras, that routinely record and publish troves of evidence documenting all kinds of patterns of police brutality and misconduct. This film follows some of the people who are doing this work, and clearly the police don’t like it. They push back hard. Cop Watchers hence face long prison sentences and trumped up charges for simply recording the police—something that is not itself a crime. In an age of intense corruption of public institutions, this film lays out abuses of power on a frightening scale, showing just how urgent serious action is required if a free society is said to continue to exist.
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change travels the globe, from New York City to the Marshall Islands and China, to meet with people who are committed to reversing the tide of global warming. The film examines the intricately woven forces that threaten the stability of the climate and the lives of the world’s inhabitants.
The Bentley Effect recounts the story of citizens throughout the Northern Rivers shire of Australia protesting against coal-seam gas extraction. When the community first learns of the news, a critical mass of people from all walks of life—farmers, landowners, mums, dads, activists, and scientists—come together to rally against the invasion. But despite enormous public opposition, the gas industry and the State Government are determined to see their plan through. So the community changes tact and resorts to differing methods of civil disobedience and non-violent protest. This culminates in a music festival of sorts in Bentley, New South Wales, which brings together the community and also spurs them on to initiating political action.
Daryl Davis is an accomplished musician, a piano player who has played all over the world with legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. He is also an activist, meeting and befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan, many of whom have never met a black person. And when some of these same people decide to leave the Klan, Daryl keeps their robes and hoods—building his collection piece by piece, story by story, person by person. In Accidental Courtesy, Daryl takes the viewer on a journey from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to Memphis, from Alabama to Ferguson, Missouri, as he recounts the entwined history of black America and popular music. Along the way, he questions several current and former Ku Klux Klan leaders as well as young Black Lives Matter activists who vehemently disagree with his tactics of tacking racism in society.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of the planet?
1966, United States. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to overthrow the corrupt systems of power waging the invasion of Vietnam, amongst the struggle for equality and civil rights at home. Beginning with armed citizens’ patrols to keep police accountable and challenge police brutality in Oakland California, The Black Panther Party put itself at the vanguard for social change, expanding in 1969 to community social programs, including free breakfast for school kids and community health clinics. This lead the FBI to call the movement “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and start an extensive government program called COINTELPRO to surveil, infiltrate, perjure, harass, discredit, destabilise and disintegrate the movement. This film chronicles the story arc of the Black Panthers successes and failures, through the voices of the people who were actually there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and the Black Panthers themselves.
In the early 1970s, in response to the United States testing nuclear weapons on the island of Amchitka, a group of environmental activists got together with the aim of sailing a ship out to Amchitka to disrupt the weapons tests and stop them. But fuelled by bad weather, delays, infighting and clashes of ego, the group never reached the island and the weapons tests went ahead. Yet the symbolism of their attempt flourished in the media, entering the public consciousness. This is where the “Greenpeace movement” was born, emerging from the era of a philosophy of passive resistance, where bearing witness to objectionable activity is supposedly protested simply by a mere presence. But just how far can this philosophy go to actually stop atrocities? This film reveals the answer to that question, where Greenpeace eventually morphs into a large global organisation, far from its environmental ideals. Internal fallout leads to the founders each drifting their own separate ways, with some even coming to criticise Greenpeace and others even actively working against their own creation.
For the past four years Submedia has been visiting a camp of the Unist’ot’en of the Wet’suet’en Nation in so-called British Columbia in Canada. The Unist’ot’en continue to fend off intrusions to their land by rapacious oil and gas companies. The threats are large and systemic and involve the very base of life itself. This two-part series of short films document the direct actions that are effective in keeping the threats of oil and gas out. Stopping the corporations physically is paramount, as they’ll stop at nothing…
No Measure of Health profiles Kyle Magee, an anti-advertising activist from Melbourne, Australia, who for the past 10 years has been going out into public spaces and covering over for-profit advertising in various ways. The film is a snapshot of his latest approach, which is to black-out advertising panels in protest of the way the media system, which is funded by advertising, is dominated by for-profit interests that have taken over public spaces and discourse. Kyle’s view is that real democracy requires a democratic media system, not one funded and controlled by the rich. As this film follows Kyle on a regular day of action, he reflects on fatherhood, democracy, what drives the protest, and his struggle with depression, as we learn that “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
In March 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, took hundreds of secret documents out, and mailed them to newspapers across the country to share them with the public. The group, calling themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, undertook the actions at a time where suspicions about systemic abuse and manipulation of social and political movements by intelligence agencies were running high in the context of the Vietnam war and 1960s counter-culture. In doing so, these citizens uncovered the FBI’s vast and illegal regimes, leading to insights about mass surveillance, intimidation, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers for manipulation, and sabotage. Much of this would later go on to be known as part of a covert program called COINTELPRO that was run directly by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy social change movements—a history that is imperative to understand in the context of today, where state repression of social change movements continues.
Travelling across North America, DamNation investigates the growing change in national attitude from strange pride in big dams as domineering engineering projects, to the growing truthful awareness that dams have always been the great killers of rivers, wildlife, the salmon, the forests, coastlines, watersheds. Life is bound to water and health of rivers, and now, dam removal in many forms—including Monkey Wrenching—is reclaiming that life and spreading. Where dams come down, rivers come back, allowing the salmon to return after decades of being concreted out. By making firsthand unexpected discoveries moving through rivers and the landscapes altered by dams, DamNation presents a much-needed metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature; to respect, and be humbled. With over two million dams in North America alone—75,000 of them over six feet tall—there’s much work to be done. Let’s get to it.
Above All Else is an intimate portrait of a group of activists and landowners in East Texas, United States, who undertook a series of direct actions and put their bodies in the way to stop construction of the Keystone pipeline in 2012. The film follows David Daniel, a quiet, affable carpenter, whose backyard became the epicenter of a tree-sit that physically blocked the path of the controversial pipeline. This was the birthplace of the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that would go on to oppose the pipeline’s construction all along its route. David’s stance against Keystone brought together an unlikely coalition of allies, from Texan farmers to student environmentalists to fire-cracker great-grandmothers like Eleanor Fairchild. Above All Else is the story of David and his allies, their struggles, and what happened when they stood in the way of the most powerful industry in the world.
Migratory Songbird populations are drastically collapsing. Many species have already been driven extinct. But yet, as an endangered species, the birds are still targeted by poachers. Millions of birds are unlawfully slaughtered each year for large sums on the black market. Emptying the Skies explores the wonder of these marvelously tiny globe-flying birds, along with the story of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, an action group of citizens who have dedicated their lives to directly stop and confront the poachers. They disrupt and destroy trapping, freeing as many birds as possible, changing the world one bird at a time.
The Square follows the anti-government protest movement in Egypt through the eyes of six very different activists, starting in Tahrir Square in 2011, up until the 2013 coup d’état. The film follows the activists on a life-changing journey through the euphoria of victory into the uncertainties and dangers of the current military rule, where everything they fought for is now under threat or teetering in the balance. The Square becomes an immersive experience, transporting the viewer into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the revolts. It is an inspirational account of people asserting their rights, struggling against multiple forces—from a brutal army dictatorship willing to crush protesters with military tanks, to a corrupt Muslim Brotherhood using mosques to manipulate voters; a struggle unfinished, unfolding.
Stop the Flows is a media project in progress to document resistance movements around the world that are working towards stopping the flows of oil and gas, minerals and other natural ‘resource’ extraction from within their communities, territories and landbases; as well as stopping the flow of the tremendous amounts of wealth generated from these destructive activities. This series aims to support and capture the many forms of organising, direct-action, protest and resistance movements throughout the world working to end mining, the oil economy, nuclear power and more…
Damocracy travels from the deepest corners of the vast Amazon rainforest in Brazil to the mountains and plains of fertile upper Mesopotamia in south east Turkey, to expose the myth that large-scale dams, as clean energy, are a solution to climate change. The film records the priceless cultural and natural heritage the world will lose in the Amazon and Mesopotamia if two planned large-scale dams are built—the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, and the Ilisu dam in Turkey. Damocracy documents the story of resistance by the thousands of people who will be displaced if the two projects go ahead, and issues a call to the world to support this fight to save the last rivers from industrial civilisation…
In the spring of 2012, a massive student strike in opposition to a tuition hike, rocked the streets of the Montréal for over six months. Protests and mass direct-action on the street became part of daily and nightly reality. Several times during the tumultuous spring, the numbers in the streets would reach over one hundred thousand. Police routinely clubbed students and their allies, and arrested them by the hundreds. Some were even banned from entering the city. But every time the cops struck, the student movement got bigger and angrier. This is a story about how the arrogance of a government underestimated a dedicated group of students, who through long-term organising, laid the foundation for some of the largest mass demonstrations in Canada’s history.
During the summer of 2013, a new area of occupied Sápmi (the northern parts of Fennoscandia in Europe) were under attack from the mining industry. If it were not for groups of brave resisters, the test blasting outside Jokkmokk in Lapland, Sweden, would have gone by without incident. The local Sámi people would have once again been exploited, and future generations poisoned without even a debate. But this time, something happened. The Gállok Rebellion tells the story of the resisters in Gállok, and shines a light on views which are not often televised. The film collates the efforts of many groups working together and serves as a call to action, to continue to protect the natural world which is under siege.
Informant follows the story of Brandon Darby—a radical-left activist turned FBI informant through a series of events starting with community support work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Republican National Convention in 2008. Brandon ends up turning fellow activists to the FBI for making Molotov cocktails in circumstances described by fellow activists as entrapment. So what happened? Did Brandon manipulate fellow activists into doing things they didn’t want to do, or were some activists simply not engaging in a full analysis of the effectiveness of their strategies and tactics? In any event, was turning over activists to the FBI the right thing to do, even when nobody was hurt?
People from industrial civilisation are fast to defend it, saying that they depend on this way of life for survival. It’s an addiction. But what if civilisation is the very thing that is killing us and everyone else around? How could we survive then? The Fuck-It Point is about this pervasive disabling mindset of civilisation, its true cost, why and how we need to stop it from killing the planet, and why most people from civilisation don’t want to do this. Will you do what is necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet?
Just Do It — A Tale of Modern-Day Outlaws follows a group of activists in the UK to document their protests and actions over one year dealing with issues around climate change. Demonstrations at Copenhagen’s 2009 G20 summit and at the Drax coal power station in North Yorkshire, England, are just some of the events documented.
Earth at Risk documents the first conference of the same name convened in 2011 by featured thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of the situation facing life on the planet today. Each speaker presents an impassioned critique of the dominant culture, together building an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. Each offers their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement—one that can actually match the scale of the problem. To fight back and win. Literally, the whole world is at stake.
Using collated footage discovered in the cellar of Swedish Television some 30 years later after recording, The Black Power Mixtape is a film that examines the evolution of the Black Power movement in the United States from 1967 to 1975. Commentaries and interviews carry the film, from leading contemporary African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars which is divided into 9 sections based chronologically on each successive year between 1967 and 1975. The film focuses on several topics and subjects relevant to the Black Power Movement including Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War, the Black Panther Party, COINTELPRO, and the War on Drugs.
By examining the modern culture of industrial civilisation and the persistent widespread violence and environmental exploitation it requires, END:CIV details the resulting epidemic of poisoned landscapes and shell-shocked nations, while further delving into the history of resistance and the prospect of fighting back against such abuse. Detailed is an overview of the environmental movement analogous with the historical whitewashings of the supposedly ‘pacifist’ social struggles in India with Gandhi and Martin Luther King in the United States; the rise of greenwashing and the fallacy that all can be repaired by personal consumer choices. Based in part on ‘Endgame,’ the best-selling book by Derrick Jensen, END:CIV asks: If your homeland was invaded by aliens who cut down the trees, poisoned the water, the air, contaminated the food supply and occupied the land by force, would you fight back?
The Revolution Business examines the role of United States intelligence agencies in the recent revolutionary movements such as the Arab Spring and others by the use of “Revolution Consultants.” Of particular interest is a Serbian man Srđa Popović, who formed an organisation called Отпор! (Otpor) which tought “non-violent struggle” in the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia during the 1990s, and which has now gone on to inspire a new generation of activists. However, some political commentators like William Engdahl are convinced that Otpor is financed by the United States and has ties to intelligence agenices, also having dubious funding from sources such as the Rand Corporation, the Department of Defence, as well as various fronts such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US Institute of Peace and the Ford Foundation—all of which have a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilising movements and usurping popular uprisings, removing their teeth.
In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarks on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict. Several years later, after travelling to five continents, Lee encounters growing numbers of people who have committed their lives to change. From Iran to Burma to Palestine and Lebanon, Cultures Of Resistance explores how art and creativity can mould with the greater culture of resistance, a part of the battle for peace and justice…
Have You Heard From Johannesburg? is series chronicling a history of the global anti-apartheid movement that opposed South Africa’s entrenched apartheid regime. The movement encompassed many methods, including mass action, underground organising, armed struggle, and international mobilisation. This series focuses on the last category: the movement to mobilise worldwide citizen action to isolate the apartheid regime. Inspired by the courage and suffering of South Africa’s people as they fought back against the violence and oppression of racism, foreign solidarity groups, in cooperation with exiled South Africans, took up the anti-apartheid cause. Working against the odds, in a climate of apathy or even support for the governments of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha, campaigners challenged their governments and powerful corporations in the West to face up to the immorality of their collaboration with apartheid, revealing that the battle was more than just political. It was economic, cultural, moral, and spiritual. The combined stories have a scope that is epic in both space and time, spanning most of the globe over half a century. Beginning with the very first session of the United Nations, and ending in 1990—when, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, the best known leader of the African National Congress, toured the world, a free man.
Sweet Crude is the story of how large oil corporations such as Shell and Chevron have absolutely decimated the Niger Delta, but the people are fighting back. The film shows the human and environmental consequences of 50 years of oil extraction against an insurgency of people who, in the three years after the filmmakers met them as college students, became the young of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The movement is born after series of non-violent protests, and what the corporations and colonisers don’t understand is that these people will fight for their land and emancipation until the end. Sweet Crude is their story of survival and armed resistance against corrupt governments and rapacious corporate power, amongst a complicit and collusive mainstream media.
Between 1970 and 1972, a group of activists used weapons to symbolically attack property, sparked by demonstrations in London against the Vietnam War. Calling themselves the Angry Brigade, the group published a series of communiqués with the actions, explaining the choice of targets and the philosophy. Targets included the embassies of repressive regimes, police stations, army barracks, boutiques, factories, government departments and the homes of Cabinet ministers, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The attacks on senior authority figures increased the desire for ‘results’ and consequently brought an avalanche of police raids. But from the start the police were faced with the difficulty of getting to grips with the section of society they found to be totally alien — were they facing an organisation, or an idea?
Testify: Eco-Defence And The Politics Of Violence examines the forces that drive revolutionary environmental activism, using examples of direct-actions from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) to illustrate tactics…
In the 1960s and 70s, the polarisation of the political situation in the United States was becoming acute with the Vietnam War abroad and civil rights at home being but the most obvious issues. For the youth political movement, the futile methods of peaceful protest led to the rise of an idealistic faction that undertook a more extreme approach to resistance. This faction, called the Weather Underground, attempted to team up with the Black Panthers to overthrow the US government—starting with street riots, escalating to bombing government targets. Thorough archival footage and interviews of the veterans of both sides, this film covers the movement, until changing times and disillusionment brought it to an end, alongside the FBI employing an illegal series of projects called COINTELPRO to hasten it…
Interspersed with shots of direct-action and interviews with participants, Big Rattle In Seattle documents the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation conference in September 1999.
The War of Words Down Under documents an insight into the radical campaign of the 1980s to ban advertising and promotion of cigarettes in Australia. The result is a movement of culture-jamming activists called B.U.G.A. U.P. or Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions; who deface, disrupt, remove and challenge smoking promotions and advertising wherever it appears—in shopping centres, sports fields, billboards, etc. The movement starts in inner-city Sydney in October 1979, later spreading to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth; with many of the members coming from professional backgrounds, including doctors and health workers. This film shows how direct-action can provoke and achieve social and political change, albeit a slow process, with success for this movement coming almost a decade later…
In 1981, the New Zealand government invited the South African rugby team to tour New Zealand. This effectively split the country in half as the rugby tour was seen by some as endorsement of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Patu! recounts the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against the South African rugby tour. Sports grounds and suburban streets became battlefields as the film recounts visceral images of massive protest actions met with police brutality. Patu! is a record of heroism, and for many young people taking to the streets, it was their 1968. Māori and Pākehā, children and grandparents, gang members and clergymen—all in a moment of rare consensus, stood together to affirm shared values.
Underground is a film about the Weather Underground Organisation—a group founded as a militant faction of the civil rights and anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The film combines interviews with members of the group after they went underground who explain how they became radicalised amongst the political happenings in the United States at the time, as well as the revolutionary struggles in Cuba, Russia and China, and the history of struggles over Native American rights and labour issues. Also detailed is the group’s analysis of American society, addressing those who have inspired them, and further explaining the reasons behind their militancy, while also introducing the issue of tactics. We see the use of property destruction as a way to bring about change and destabilise the current political order. Underground takes an intimate look at the inner workings of the Weather Underground and their strong internal collective identity, providing a record of how a bunch of middle-class Americans became self-styled militant revolutionaries, raising questions not only about the merits of their struggle, but also about past and future radical actions.