Reviews Short Documentary

Arise! (2019) – 4 stars

Director: Carl Joyce

Writers: Paul Summers

Cast: Joyce McAndrew, Amber Pearson, Brenda Heslop, Jac Howard, Jean Spence, Mollie Brown, Paul Summers

Running time: 7 mins

The situation in the UK is symptomatic the global political moment at large; a crumbling economic system has rendered humanity seemingly incapable of responding to a number of rising existential threats, while those who have profited from that state of affairs will throw laws, lies and violence at anyone championing change. As a result, while we are aware that without action we face social and environmental catastrophe, a better life still seems tragically beyond our grasp – while a government seemingly bent on digging our collective grave seems untouchable.

Indeed, when looking back on a century of cruel oppression and bitter defeats it is hard to feel any kind of optimism for the coming decade. But looking back further, the very fact that we no longer live in any semblance of democracy, and not some brutal feudal hierarchy, is proof that over the course of generations the world can be changes. It is this level of much-needed perspective that political film-poem Arise! brings to the table, just days before a “once in a generation election” looks set to deliver Boris Johnson’s gaggle of liars, racists and murderers a large majority in Parliament.

Building on an emotive yet methodical poem by Paul Summers, Carl Joyce’s short-film provides a whistle-stop tour of the last 40 years, summarising generations of heartbreak and suffering in the process. The ghosts of the miners’ strike loom large, as Summers’ words conjure up memories of an ill-fated fight against the merciless policies of Margaret Thatcher – while Joyce pairs this with the terraced skeletons of Northern pit-town that now stand as a legacy to that defeat.

It is at this point that you might be forgiven for feeling the situation is hopeless. The film undoubtedly echoes the feelings of countless people up and down the UK, who have been beaten and bloodied by a long history of cuts and privatisation, whose lives have been wrecked for the sake of a cheap buck and the march of marketised ‘progress’ – but while this segment of the poem is hard to hear, it is important to hear it in the context of what comes next.

Summers words suddenly interject; “And so we march this Bastille Day to Dunelm Slopes, to Durham Town, squat citadel of Cuthbert’s bones… And so we march on Durham Town, reclaim the detail of our past – to give it hope, to give it voice, to let it seep into our futures.”

Our thoughts are guided back, further, to world-changing struggles hundreds of years ago, which we almost take for granted, but show that the status-quo is not untouchable. We are then prompted to consider how that legacy can inform and embolden our own efforts for liberation.

This powerful segment is coupled with images from modern day struggles, including the on-going work of young employees at McDonalds railing against their employers for improved workplace safety, job security, healthier conditions and a living wage. I remember being told by a seasoned trade unionist 10 years ago that such workers were too precarious to mobilise, while they would be too easy for the fast-food giant to swiftly eject from its ranks – but now the so-called McStrike sees hundreds of those same people openly joining unions and demanding to be heard.

History is littered with hard-fought defeats and brutal punishments, then, but in its broadest sense it demonstrates the unstoppable nature of change. Arise! consolidates on its point by showing further catastrophes, such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, in contrast to the rise of positive developments in a strengthening labour moment – such as Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum group – forces which promise to build a world free from such injustices.

What Arise! subsequently delivers is a combination of steady pragmatism and euphoric hope – this makes the film’s message work without seeming overly idealistic and rose-tinted. The admission is that yes, we may have cause to shed many tears over time, but throughout all history that amounts to a wave that will wash away the slave owners, the murderers and the tyrants, and then humanity can be free – in spite of the claims of Fukuyama-type nay-sayers.

While this call-to-arms might not sway the election, or add a great many to the ranks of those voting for change, it does fulfil an important function for those already within the fold. Whatever the outcome of Britain’s general election, Arise! will serve to remind those already fighting that the struggle carries on, and tomorrow can still be theirs.

“History is done, our keepers refrain. They do not hear it nagging in our veins. And so we march to Durham Town, for the many not the few, to build Jerusalem anew.”

Summers’ thoughtful, probing prose is the perfect hymn for the political moment in the UK, while Carl Joyce’s imagery and editing serve to complement the message without shunting it into didacticism. Ultimately, this film-poem will largely preach to the converted, however it will fulfil an important function in that respect, helping to revive and re-energise those already wearied by a life-time of activism.

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