The period from 1968 to 1981 witnessed the development of a medium that carried on the tradition of direct cinema and cinema verité but with radically different form and content—that of community video making. The year 1968 marks the earliest known use of portable video equipment in the United Kingdom for community aims in a period of legendary cultural activism. But 1981 saw the development of the Workshop Agreement1, Channel 4, and the new conservative government in the United Kingdom, rendering much of the work taken up by community video groups impossible to continue.
Raju and His Friends was released almost exactly a quarter of a century ago, and revisiting it now at the invitation of the FocaalBlog editor is something of a trip in a time machine for me. As I discuss below, ethnographic film and anthropological theory have moved on considerably since then. The question, therefore, is whether the film still has relevance to students and fellow academics today.
My fieldwork began with an image, a quite common image of violence broadcast by Italian television: Terni steel plant (known as AST) workers were protesting by the station, pushing the police block in order to occupy the railways. Terni is a small town in the center of Italy, and every time a strike occurs, the workers always outnumber the local police force, and a SWAT squad is called from nearby Rome to control and sedate the rallies. This is how a Roman police officer managed to club the mayor of Terni, who had rushed to the station to mediate and ease the situation, confusing him with a worker/rioter. The image of the bleeding mayor jumped from local televisions to national channels in a matter of minutes, and this episode became the symbol of a struggle, and considerably helped the re-election of Leopoldo di Girolamo. It was May 2012, and ThyssenKrupp (TK), the German owner of AST, had sold the plant to Outokumpu, another steel multinational from Finland. Almost seven months after the buyout, Outokumpu didn’t present any strategic business plan, only the promise of investment in situ, which never happened. The exasperated workers, tired of promises and feeling fooled once again by a multinational, invaded the streets and shouted slogans that sometimes belonged more on the football pitch than in a political rally, testifying how the stadium behavior spilled into working-class protest, as Portelli (2010: 8) noticed during the 2004 general strike. Violence erupted at the first contact with the police officers, who certainly weren’t there to talk.