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Winstanley; Warts and All Paperback – May 8, 2009
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The book takes us on a journey of the challenges facing an independent filmmaker. It starts with the painfully-won success of securing UK-funding, includes financial and technical obstacles, and ends - despite critical acclaim - with the frustration of not getting proper distribution.
Professional conflicts and resolutions are truthfully described, with humour and empathy. I identified with the satisfaction of being an (unpaid) local extra dressed in 17th century costume, and the ouch of the screenwriter's polished script being used as raw material by co-directors, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo. Both had previously made It Happened Here (another cult-classic), and the book reproduces their creative tussles making Winstanley - which, sadly, for British cinema, turned out to be their final film.
I first came across Gerrard Winstanley a few years ago in the land-campaign magazine, The Land. His writing is as relevant as ever: the earth is "a Common Treasury for all". A key figure in the Digger movement, which resisted the enforced enclosures of common land, Winstanley was a Christian communist, political activist, eco-hero.
I saw the film at Bristol's independent cinema, the Cube, in 2009 (and wrote about it on my blog, Real Food Lover). I believe our current industrial food model is linked to the enclosures, conducted over several centuries, depriving the poor of their traditional land-rights to grow food and rear cattle.
Shot in black and white, the film brings to life with authentic detail the Diggers' self-sufficient commune set up in 1647 at St George's Hill, Surrey. Inhospitable British weather features strongly - I have an enduring image of rain dripping off trees. The film captures the wretched meaning of resistance where only a camp fire and tents protect protestors.
The film acquaints us with Winstanley's vision through his written words. It shows the inequal battle with the aristocratic authorities, and paints the conflict with local poor people, suspicious of the Diggers.
I did not realise until reading this book what goes into creating such scenes, making them accurate, accessible and filmable.
Just as Kevin Brownlow's film reveals a hidden part of history and makes it real so does his book unveil the reality of filming. Its subtitle - Warts and All - says it all.