The proposal was to set up “mini-cinemas” in official and autonomous spaces during the ESF, showing short, punchy activist films. The technology would be re-cycled computers which would be of sufficiently low value to be left unattended, placed in a box and with a continuously running playlist programmed at the beginning of the day. The screen would therefore be a computer monitor. The aim was also to enable people to “DIY” encode their own films for them to be added to an ever-expanding playlist.
Politically it would be an anarchic, upbeat intervention in the more hidebound conventions of the political conference. Practically it would provide the opportunity for the showing of activist shorts which conventional cinema screenings can be reluctant to programme. It would also enable screening spontaneity and last-minute, urgent, campaign-based screenings. Potentially it would be very transferable to other venues and events.
It would also offer campaigning film makers an opportunity for “copyleft” distribution via “Ruffcuts” CDs, and had the wider remit of helping to build an effective network of radical film makers.
Technology / Equipment
Basically the technology can work fine with the ecologically-sound method of using re-cycled computers – the requirements for video playback are quite low-spec – but much greater stability (and therefore less risk of breakdown and need for on-site maintenance) would be possible with a higher grade of computer (Pentium 500 64MB with 6GB drive). This holds the risk that the equipment is more worth stealing, but a more robust wooden container for the gear would make the equipment difficult to carry away. Use of computers certainly incurs much less risk of theft than the conventional video or DVD player. There is an additional benefit that it introduces many viewers who do not yet have access to broadband or do not have a DVD drive in their computer to the idea of watching TV on a computer, which will soon become a commonplace. Distribution of radical video now works best as VCD, playable on home DVD players as well as computer CD drives. (DVD is still somewhat exclusive, and VHS is becoming redundant as a format).
We tried to use Linux as a platform for the computers instead of Windows, but this proved impossible, as Linux even though the were volunteers who know some Linux appeared incapable of working. A future version of this project would research the software necessary to do this, so that the project could go “open source” with a Linux platform.
As a result of the ESF BEyONdTV project, we now have a collection of 4 computers, ready for further screenings, and a computer with a larger hard drive and spec for the encoding and storage of video material, and for the making of screening CDs. This equipment is not lying dormant, but is being used daily in a new community media resources centre in Oxford.
There were two BEyONdTV mini-cinemas in the official Alexandra Palace space. The most successful of these was at the side of a café in Alexandra Palace, where chairs could be pulled in to make watching more comfortable. In the context of all the dull speechifying this was an attractive “infotainment”. The one in the Palm Court lobby (the entrance of Alexandra Palace), although watched for shorter periods of time, was important to introduce the idea to large numbers of people on a busy thoroughfare.
There were also two “min-sins” in the autonomous spaces. One ran in the RampArts space in Whitechapel before the main programme of activities began, benefitting from the sofas furnishing the space. The other was in the indymedia centre at the Camden Centre, in a gallery space to the side of the main hall. Because of the logistical and technical difficulties, we only managed to get this one partially running on the Saturday of the ESF.
2000 copies of a double-sided A5 leaflet were produced and distributed, with an 85% take-up. The reverse of the leaflet publicised the Activist Video Seminar in the Alexandra Palace cinema on Saturday, a complementary activity attended by some 60 people where some of the films seen in the mini-cinemas were also screened. An e-mail list of video activists was taken. E-mail “spamming” publicity for BeyONdTV also took place.
(See appendix for leaflet)
Encoding of other people's films only happened minimally. As with many DIY media projects, most people are as yet passive consumers, or at best expect someone else to do it for them. People did come to us, mainly with long-form DVDs, unsuitable for the “activist video lounge space”. These could be accommodated in future by an open, bookable space.
The “min-sins” were designed to showcase high-quality short films, appropriate for the busy spaces in which they were located. In future, people should be able to organise their own screenings of longer films on at least one screen, a bookable space, with keyboard access to the CPU, basic instructions, and the computer equipped with a DVD drive.
A further possible development would be to enable interactivity in all the screening spaces so that people could review films and show to friends / colleagues films they have liked, with the possibility to burn CD compilations.
Conclusions / Proposals for the Future
A massive amount of work with minimal sleep by the volunteers meant that the project was successfully trialled, and lessons learnt.
We can as a result make a number of recommendations and proposals for the future development of this project:
1.A slightly higher-specification computer for the screenings would increase reliability to a point where on-site maintenance was minimal.
2.The development of a small piece of software for Linux would enable the switch to an “open source” platform.
3.Screenings could become interactive, with one screen an open, bookable space, and others possibly with a variable, selective playlist.
4.For encoding to work adequately so that screen playlists could be updated with new material, a full-time person is needed to train film makers how to do this. More lead-time with publicity would alert more film makers to the technical requirements for screening their own films in the “min-sins”.
5.The network of video activists begun at the ESF should now be built on, and more training provided.
6.Most excitingly, such a network of radical film makers could contribute to a peer-to-peer computer-based “offline” TV project, which is a planned future development of BeyONdTV.
for more info on offlineTV project