You’ve probably heard all about the riots in London. They’ve been rather difficult to ignore, especially if, like me, you live in Peckham. In fact, there are police sirens periodically blaring outside my window as I write this post. It is mainly for this reason I’ve not had a chance to write a little about my experiences at the New Horizons Festival in Wroclaw, which I hope to do over the next few days. I say “mainly”, because actually much of last week was spent either catching up with the huge volume of work that has accumulated over the past few months or recovering from the hellish ordeal of getting back from Poland to London due to staggering ineptitude of LOT Polish Airlines, as those who follow me on either Twitter or Facebook may well know. Anyway, I won’t go into further details. Suffice it to say, I’ve travelled on some pretty shitty airlines on my time, but…
Back to the riots. Well, I don’t intend to add too much to the endless debate and conjecture about what has caused them, who is responsible etc, because this is a subject that has already been knocked about considerably in the nation’s media over the past few days, and it will no doubt dominate the national discourse for the rest of the year, at the very least. Besides, I don’t think I could put things much better than Seumus Milne in yesterday’s ‘These riots reflect a society run on greed and looting’ article in The Guardian, or the ‘Panic on the streets of London’ piece on Penny Red’s blogspot from Tuesday. I include these links mainly to record them for posterity, as something to look back on in the future when we’ve had a chance to get a little more perspective. Personally, my own feelings are whatever the ‘explanations’ for the huge amount of criminal damage that has been caused by the rioters, no one is ever going to convince me as to their justification.
On my daily walks down Rye Lane in Peckham these past few mornings, I can’t help but think about the sheer pointlessness of the damage, the utterly emptiness of the gesture. If this was an act of defiance from a disenfranchised generation, then it was a pretty pathetic one and aimed in totally the wrong direction. Peckham is hardly the wealthiest community in London. Rye Lane already has its fair share of empty shop premises, with numerous others in the process of holding closing-down or liquidation sales. The street’s most iconic local pub, The Hope, closed a few months back and has now been replaced as a betting shop – oh the irony! The rest of the street mainly consists of privately owned African or Caribbean grocery stores or, in the case of Rye Lane’s major casualty on Monday, an off licence situated next to Gregg’s Bakery, now being demolished after it was completely gutted by fire. The looters were reduced to pilfering from stores such as Poundland, Poundstretchers, Mighty Pound, 99p Stores and Primark. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, the sheer banality of evil.
Still, out of the ashes, something positive already seems to be emerging, a more genuine sense of community spirit, a refusal to let the area be destroyed from rogue elements within. I’m certain Peckham will bounce back, although the detour I now have to take through the council estates round the back of Rye Lane while taking my son to his nanny do demonstrate what many have already pointed out in the media – that for all this talk about ‘Big Society’ motivating the government spending cuts, a complete different world seems exists outside of the daily experience of so many of us, where people live in cramped little estates with no money, no education, no jobs, no hope. One wonders how what is allegedly one of the richest countries in the world ever allowed things to come to this.
The sheer randomness of the devastation was brought home to movie fans with the news of the destruction of the Sony/Pias distribution warehouse in Enfield, North London, about which I tweeted news from Gigwise and The Guardian back on Tuesday and Screen Daily the next morning. The warehouse, owned by the UK’s largest independent home entertainment distributor, Pias, was razed to the ground, and with it the entire stock of a large number of DVD labels – and not major labels, but the kind of independent companies that, without which, the UK film market would be a desert: Arrow Films, the British Film Institute, Dogwoof, Artificial Eye, Palisades Tartan…
Among these I’d like to offer my particular condolences to Terracotta Distribution and Third Window Films, two tiny labels run by friends of mine, Joey Leung and Adam Torel respectively, without whom the UK film scene would be an infinitely poorer place. These aren’t big companies; these are one man enterprises operating on a lot of love and not a lot of capital, releasing films they believe in and actively engaging with their audiences through events such as the Terracotta Far East Film Festival and East Winds: A Third Window Festival – Joey kindly let us have Terracotta’s Big Tits Zombie 3D for our Zipangu Fest Halloween Schlockfest double bill last year, while Adam gave us Confessions of a Dog for our closing film of the festival. Also Eureka have similarly been a wonderful energising force for me, with their brilliant releases of Japanese classics through their Masters of Cinema label, and Dogwoof too have built up an impressive roster of cutting edge documentaries that have spread beyond their niche markets and enriched the wider political discourse in Britain. And let us not also forget the large number of indie music labels who have similarly suffered immense losses due to this one incident. Let us pray the perpetrator of this arson attack is brought to justice as soon as possible.
Small distribution companies like these already have the odds stacked against them in the UK due to the deeply-ingrained winner-takes-all economic imbalances of the country’s entertainments market, the lack of support from the mainstream media, and the hefty premium required by the BBFC just to get films into distribution in the first place. Regardless of whether the substantial losses of the stock from all of these companies will be covered by their insurance or not, the biggest problem they all face at the moment is one of cashflow. To get a better idea of the problems facing small distributors such as these, check out this post on Third Window’s Facebook page – Basically once their stock that is already in stores across the country or held by online retailers runs out, that’s it – there’s nothing to replace it until they manufacture more units, which in itself is a costly business.
So I wish to end this post by adding my voice to the chorus of support for these companies, and in particular urge you to go to and see Third Window’s latest release of Villain (Akunin) when it opens in London next Friday at the ICA. There’s a lot more details about all this and how you can help in John Berra’s ‘Support Independent Distributors of Asian Cinema Following UK Riots’ article for VCinemashow and this post on Podcast on Fire, but basically it all boils down to this: show them you care by ordering their films from Amazon, or watching them online on Mubi.com. Don’t let the riots destroy our outlets for quality independent cinema.
Here are some links:
Third Window and Terracotta films available online at Mubi.com posted by Martin Cleary at New Korean Cinema.
Right, I’m off to Amazon to pick up my Cold Fish BluRay…