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‘The Plan’ Director Steve Sprung on how film can contribute to making a better world

Since its launch, feature documentary The Plan has been in quite some demand; despite a run-time in excess of three hours it has played at events like the London Film Festival, while Director Steve Sprung has been in demand on the media circuit – appearing on the likes of Russia Today to promote the film. With The Plan set to play in six cinemas across the UK on March 1st, Sprung spoke to Indy Film Library on reaching a new generation with important political lessons from the past.

Films with a progressive message can struggle to bring in new viewers as the language they deploy arguably only preaches to the converted, and alienate broader audiences. As the left looks to recover in 2020, how can radical filmmakers change their storytelling to reach new audiences and encourage them to join the fight back?

First of all, I wouldn’t put all films with a progressive message in one box. I don’t like the phrase preach to the converted. It has religious overtones, in the sense that there’s a bunch of fixed knowledge or truth that and can be acquired and job done. Also the idea of films with a “message” carries that idea. I made The Plan to encourage re-looking and reflecting on past actions, as a contribution towards our making better ones in future.

The Plan focuses on a group of arms workers who looked to overrule their bosses and build renewable energy infrastructure instead – a process one of the participants describes as “turning the world on its head.” Forty years later, with the establishment seeming more entrenched than ever in Britain on the back of a massive electoral win, the world couldn’t feel less ‘turned on its head.’ How do you hope your film might change that?

I think films can only help change things, at best. In this case hopefully by re-looking across those 40 years, which are actually more than 40 years because the emergence of neo-liberalism goes back to the 1973 economic crisis and in the UK the Labour Government that preceded Thatcher. By re-looking at that period, the process of industrial decline – the roots that led to the discontent that helped fuel support for the whole Brexit mess. This in stark contrast to the Lucas workers plan approach, born from a completely different set of values that proposed a very different path, one that, especially when re-viewed from the here and now, doesn’t lead to social and environmental degeneration and offers quite the opposite, imaginative hopeful possibilities.

How did you first hear about the 1970s Alternative Plan, and what made you feel this was a story you had to tell?

I knew of it from the time when I was part of Cinema Action. We didn’t make a film about it then and there has never been a film that attempted to tell the whole story, whereas there have been many films about miners strikes etc. The film is partially about this question, why didn’t we make a film about it at the time and why did this story disappear when it was by far the most important campaign that any group of trade unionists mounted, because it wasn’t only about wages or working conditions but about the very question of what are we making and how are we making it.  It was doubly important to bring this story back now in our time of environmental and climate crisis.

What was the biggest challenge during the production?

Having to cart the film equipment around mainly by bus, tube and train. Actually that was also good exercise.

The film already played at the London Film Festival and had a recommendation from Ken Loach. What’s the general reception been like for The Plan so far?

The reception has been remarkable, in the sense of a three and a half hour film being selected for the LFF, I say selected but I didn’t even enter it and now screened in cinemas. It has also been mixed in the sense that people have reacted in different ways. It’s very much a film essay but a hybrid in which the Lucas workers form part of the essay. Some people have asked why it doesn’t just have the Lucas workers story, others like the range of the film and some prefer the filmmaker part of the essay. Some people have said it’s like 5 films but I think that’s because we’re used to things being talked about and looked at as separate issues and what the film aims to do is connect many things up.

How can people see the film for themselves?

It’s in six cinemas on 1st March.

Birmingham, Midlands Art Centre / Cambridge, Arts Picturehouse

Liverpool, Picturehouse at FACT / London, Bertha Dochouse

Norwich, Cinema City / Sheffield, Showroom

We have 12 further cinema screenings already agreed and after that we will continue to organise screenings across the UK. Contact to organise one. All the screenings aim to have post-screening discussions.

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