Here in Dumfries and Galloway we are very fortunate to have a local cinema as diverse as the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre, a cinema that features such a variety of cinematic treats and are never afraid to screen feature films or documentaries that the more conservative movie goer might find a little contentious, Burning Issues (2004) is one such film.
Sponsored by the Dumfries Trades Union Council and the RBCFT and introduced by Ian Gasse who explained that a community theatre company based in Birmingham, England called Banner Theatre originally made the film to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1984 miner struggle. Founded in 1974 it is the only theatres company that tour consistently to Britain’s trade unionists. The company has performed at union events, pubs, clubs, theatres, festivals and rallies over the past 40 years. It pioneered and continues to use documentary theatre techniques. Productions include recorded interview material, theatre, song, music, video and slides. Above all, what makes the company unique is its use of ordinary working class people’s words captured by camera. A founder member of the company was former BBC radio producer Charles Parker, who with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, created the radio ballads, award-winning musical documentaries broadcast by the BBC in the 1960s. These have been a major influence on Banner’s work and the development of the ‘video ballad’.
Burning Issues was being shown at the RBCFT to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the 1984/5 Miners Strike, the most significant industrial dispute of the late twentieth century. The defeat of the miners led to the rundown of the mining industry and the impoverishment of many mining communities. The film is a celebration of the solidarity, resourcefulness and resistance of mining communities throughout the strike, which lasted for more than a year, and allows miners and their families to speak for themselves twenty years on from the strike and to reflect on what it has subsequently meant to them and their communities. Ian also went on to explain that Banner had supported the miners throughout the strike.
The film itself consisted of songs sung on a stage in front of an audiences with a screen at the rear showing archive footage of the miners strike and interviews in 2004 with people that were involved in the strike, both men and women including Anne Scargill who was at the time of the strike the wife of the mine workers leader Arthur Scargill. The 1984 – 1985 strike was about keeping the pits open and securing the 1000’s of jobs of men that worked in the mining industry and it was NUM leader who claimed that it was Thatcher and her Tory government’s long-term strategy to destroy the industry by closing the pits. The government denied this but subsequently Scargill has been proved right.
Scottish TUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham led a post screening discussion with the packed audience to discuss the modern day repercussions from this historic working class action. I think it must be agreed that the defeat of the miners in 1985 was the beginning of the end of the Unions, as we knew them and subsequently led to today’s dishonest and abysmal treatment of ordinary hard working people by the coalition government.
Whose Side Are You On?
The Spirit of 45 (2012)
Happy Lands (2013)