Since their inception, films have been a form of communication to tell co-operative stories, particularly stories around justice. During Co-op Fortnight 2021, the Birmingham Film Co-op hosted the Just Film festival (18 June – 4 July) to share some of these films, focusing on current, relevant social justice issues. Supported by Central England Co-op and Co-op News, the festival also included a short film competition, with a hybrid awards ceremony on 4 July conducted at the Warehouse Café in Birmingham, and on Zoom.
The Birmingham Film Co-op is run by a group of volunteers who have a passion for films on social justice, and the festival came about as the volunteers were looking at ways to remain active during lockdown. The aim was to keep the screening of films with social justice themes going during the pandemic, whilst reaching a broader audience than normal. Pre-Covid-19, the Birmingham Film Co-op held in-person screenings at the Warehouse Café.
The Just Film Festival screened 10 feature films online to a virtual audience across various genres, including environmental films and films about co-ops. One of the most popular films was 2040, a 2019 Australian documentary with filmmaker Damon Gameau travelling the world speaking to people about the possible solutions to the climate emergency.
Also popular was Your Sunday Newspaper, an archive documentary showing the life of a co-operator reading a copy of Reynolds News in the 1950s. Reynolds News was a radical weekly newspaper published from 1850-1967 by Co-operative Press: the film was screened immediately after the celebratory 150th anniversary AGM of Co-operative Press (the co-op which published Co-op News). The film list of films (and trailers) can be seen on the Just Film Festival website.
The festival’s short film competition was held across two categories – documentaries and co-op stories – with entries judged by Debbie Robinson (CEO of Central England Co-operative), Rebecca Harvey (executive editor of Co-op News) and Kate Palser (chair of the Birmingham Film Co-op).
The Best Documentary category was won by The Seven Cities of Rome, showing how people in the Tor Bella Monaca neighbourhood of Rome, Italy, are working and co-operating together to make the best of a tough situation. The director of the film short, the authors of the book “The Seven Cities of Rome” to which the video is linked, the four members of aroundtheworld.coop and members of the Tor Più Bella Association spoke warmly about what the award meant to them.
The Best Co-op Story category was won by The Bins and the Bees by KGAnimation Partners, an animation that looked at how bees work together to contribute to a sustainable society, and what humans can learn from this. The film was born out of frustration at watching the amount of rubbish abandoned in local parks and around their community; this was their response, using recycled materials to animate their story of co-operation.
Awards were presented to the filmmakers over Zoom by Richard Bickle (director of Central England Co-op and secretary of Co-op Press) and myself (on behalf of Co-op Press), with the winners joining us via Zoom from Italy and Leeds respectively.
The Just Film Festival was a success, but Birmingham Film Co-op members said it was a steep learning curve as this was the first virtual film festival they had organised.
“The festival featured a wide diversity of films, and yet panel discussions often explored the links between the varied themes,” said Kate Palser, Birmingham Film Co-op chair.
“As organisers and volunteers, we’ve been delighted with so many aspects of the festival, with people from all over the world watching and enjoying films about a variety of social justice and co-op issues. But we are aware of how much we have learned the hard way. Would we do it again? Co-op Press will be among the first to know when we have future plans …”