|WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER? |
Without a doubt, I am most proud of the four films that I made about Chile. There was Companero, a fifty-minute documentary. Documentaries bewitch me more than any other genre. Anyway, Companero is the life story of Victor Jara. The coup had happened in September 1973, and we wanted to do something for Chile, because we had failed to save Allende, we had failed to save our comrades in Chile, and we wanted to help. We thought, perhaps wed make a little film about the leading cultural figure of Chile, namely this folk singer. In early 1974, Victors widow, Joan, had been spirited out of Chile, with the help of James Callahan, and she landed in London with her two children. Shes a remarkable woman, but we didnt know how remarkable until we started interviewing her. I say "we" because I did it together with Martin Smith. He was more directing Joan, and I was more the producer of the film. The conception was mine, getting Joan was my idea, getting all the archive footage together was my idea, but it was really a shared responsibility, and on the credits it's "Stanley Forman and Martin Smith", quite justifiably. It took off immediately, it went all over the world on 16mil, because we couldnt afford to make it on 35mm. Eventually it was shown on Thames Television, very late at night, with a bloody anchorman who said: "we dont wish to associate ourselves with the views expressed in this film. Blah, blah." But still, they showed it, which was something. We followed that up with a film called Victor Jara Sings. We were given a tape from Peruvian television; a show made two weeks before he was murdered. Someone had been told to destroy it, but smuggled it out to Joan. She immediately brought it round to me and we decided that judicious editing would leave us with pristine Victor Jara, singing. The only visual record we have. Its a nice film, it stands up on its own. Were having a season at the National Film Theatre in May, to mark our fiftieth anniversary, and were showing it together with Companero. You see Companero, in which Joan tells incredibly moving things, and then you see Victor Jara Sings. It works. You can show both of these together. The third film was about Doctor Sheila Cassidy, and its called Message From Chile. Sheila was a Catholic doctor, in Chile during the time of the coup, and was tending to the people who were fighting Pinochet. She was captured by Pinochets men and tortured, but she, too, managed to leave Chile, and wrote a book: Audacity to Believe. The film we made with her was a newsreel of a meeting that the Chile Solidarity Campaign put on for her. Its a straightforward film and also tells you the story of Chile. The fourth, a ten-minute film: Patchworks of San Diego, is about the patchworks business in Chile, and its various traditions. Its a very Latin American art: each patchwork tells a story, a little legend about whats happening, about fascist oppression. Theyre political things that you can put up, like people put up a calendar. There was an exhibition of these, and Martin Smith said, "Lets go along and film this". So those were the four. We called it our Chilean Quartet. The other thing that Ive done was a film about this Marxist journal, which no longer exists, called Labour Monthly. In 1971, they were marking its fiftieth birthday and we made a film called Fifty Fighting Years. Its really the story of Britain. It deals with the post First World War period, it goes on to talk about the depression, unemployment, the unemployed workers marches. Then it goes onto the war, into fascism, and finishes up with the editor, Rajani Palme Dutt. He and his associate editor we filmed at some depth and we ended up with a fifty-minute documentary. It got the gold medal at the Leipzig Film Festival in 1972 and were very proud of it.
DID YOUR POLITICAL FILMMAKING HELP OR HINDER YOUR CAREER?
Ive always considered myself political, and if you are political what you do reflects. I was quite well known, and we were dealing with the Soviet Union. My phone, I dont know if its tapped now, MI5 dont write and say we are now tapping your phone or we have stopped tapping your phone. Certainly letters were opened. Certainly my phone was tapped, both here and at home. Certainly the CIA came, whenever we had an interesting film from Vietnam: "we are interested in Vietnam. We dont care what it costs, we would like to purchase a copy of the film".
The difficulties were harassment. MI5 was the governmental set-up to track down Communists. They would say and fascists, but its mainly the Reds that theyre after. The fact is that being a Communist, or a real socialist, and when I say that I mean people like Tony Benn, not people like Tony Blair, is a mixed struggle thats going on on many fronts. One of the things that you do learn about as a Socialist, or a Communist, is that you dont achieve anything unless you fight for it. Youve got to fight for what you believe. As Karl Marx said, it will either develop into a socialist world, or it could end in the common ruin of humanity. All we know is that this system, which is based primarily on greed, profit, and what they now politely call "the market", clearly has a role in the economy of our planet, but it is not the final answer.
Films, and to a greater extent television, can help human beings understand the world in which they live. Films can help people change, to have moral values. People switch on the television and all they hope for is someone winning a million pounds, or someone being embarrassed, because of the way capitalism, in all its ideological manifestations has worked itself. Id like to think that its something worthy and worthwhile, because theres nothing better than being a human being. This is the world in which I live. I didnt choose to be born on the 26th of December 1921. I didnt choose my Jewish parentage. I might have been a happier person if I had had a different religious background, I might have been less happy, I do not know. But what I do know is that this is it. You live only once, and that makes every day you live precious. Maybe that is a good spot at which to end my spiel, eh?
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