A day digital filming in Cambridge


Living and learning with my introduction to digital filming class

For Cambridgeshire-based people, Hills Road are running an Introduction to Digital Film Making on Weds evenings from September – see here. It also sits nicely with An introduction to social media for social action that Ceri Jones and I will be running in the same term but on a different dayAs far as the local community website Shape Your Place is concerned, I hope both courses will increase the number of people contributing to the site and experimenting more imaginatively with social media.

Jumping on the tour bus

Due to the bumpy drive – a combination of roads and old vehicle, the footage I was hoping to film never materialised. That combined with a cloudy start meant that the ‘filming while in motion footage that I got with the wind turbines from the train was simply not going to happen. I had similar problems with placing my camcorder on mini-tripod in basket effect. A journey that felt smooth on two wheels came out on film much more bumpy and nauseating to watch.

We’re all at very basic stages of filming, so much of what we have been filming has been experimental, artistic, transition or filler material rather than things for a specific purpose. (Eg an interview for a news report). Hence part of what we were doing involved taking day-to-day views and trying to approach them from different angles – eg filming footage with the camera close to the ground, or from angles other than straight on.

Multiple protests at the Guildhall

I planned on heading over to the Guildhall to cover the demo about the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership that the World Development Movement amongst others were organising nationwide protests against. At the same time Amnesty International had a stall, as did demonstrators against the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East – the latter marching around the centre of Cambridge passing even more demonstrations on King’s Parade nearby.

Campaigners from the local GMB trade union branch, Cambridge People's Assembly and the WDM Cambridge protesting against #TTIP
Campaigners from the local GMB trade union branch, Cambridge People’s Assembly and the WDM Cambridge protesting against #TTIP

Things got fiery (verbally) on one or two occasions (I don’t like that sort of confrontation – hence shying away) but the thing that struck me with the TTIP demo was how there was such a huge awareness/political literacy gap between the general public and the nature of the partnership being negotiated at international levels.

Given that I’ve moved my focus towards many things local, I thought that now was the time to record two short clips of people representing organisations that were there. My remit/premise was simple: Explain who you are, who you represent, why you are important (to the community) and how people can get involved. Steve Sweeney of the GMB Union went first:


Steve’s also involved in the Cambridge branch of the People’s Assembly. In his case, my take was that many people (in particular young people) don’t know what a trade union is, let alone why they are important (esp to low paid people in industries with a track record of exploitation of workers). Given Steve’s been a union rep for a long time, he kindly agreed to be on film. Any questions or comments about trade unions in Cambridge should be put to Cambridge Trades Council who are the local umbrella group for trades unions. As with the local election campaign, my viewpoint has been to be a signpost – like with the posters.

I also filmed a piece for Cambridge Rebel Arts – with Jill Eastland


Again, similar purpose but for a group of community activists (mainly women in this case – they have a radio show on Cambridge 105FM). The way I’m doing community reporting at the moment is trying to stick to some basics: Being non-confrontational and allowing people who are trying to do positive things in the community to have a chance to use digital media to show what they are doing.

Buskers between the throngs of tourists and day trippers

And they were there in their thousands – to the extent that even the tour guides got confused as to who was with their group and who wasn’t. It’s at this time of year more and more local residents avoid the historic city centre like the plague – not least because of things like this. But as things stand, Cambridge has neither the resources or the civic infrastructure to manage the millions of tourists that visit the city – the powers & finances are locked up in Westminster and Whitehall. (The responsibility in my view lies with the political institutions, not the tourists).

But it’s not all bad news. More tourists amongst other things has meant a significant improvement in the standard of buskers in town. Old hands will be able to tell you what some of the bad old days were like. These days, the quality of some of the buskers is very high. Part of it has been technological. For example Jack Man Friday beatboxing here:

At our rehearsal for the Bury St Edmunds gig with the Dowsing Sound Collective (this blogpost being written before the two performances on Sunday 13th July – yes, the first World Cup Final I won’t be watching live on telly since Italia ’90) we had Skilly Skillz beatboxing for us. This is him doing ‘vocal percussion’ on our collaboration with Basement Jaxx. Watching/listening to him warm up was quite something.

I then spotted Warren Daniel performing one of the tracks that with Dowsing Sound Collective we had sung on Parker’s Piece the previous weekend (see my blogpost here). Here’s the former’s version.


What strikes me is how different the various interpretations of the same song are. This was the thinking behind Basement Jaxx’s Power to the People project. I’m still waiting for permission to share the video with you – Puffles features in it. Yeah – you know you’ve made it when your dragon fairy has featured in a Basement Jaxx video AND got nearly 100 votes in a local council election! In the same year.

I then heard 16 year old Tom Korni singing a superb version of ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles. He’d gathered a huge crowd – one of the biggest I’d seen for a busker outside The Guildhall. A massive step-on from the one-man-band that used to play his stuff on in Petty Cury, Cambridge during the 1980s. Not Tom’s leg movements in this superb medley – they’re hitting various electronic and acoustic percussion instruments while he’s playing. Far easier said than done.


International sixth-formers give their take on Cambridge

On my way back, at the bus stop I overheard three international sixth-formers studying in Cambridge complaining about the city. Being in ‘community reporter mode’ I politely asked if they wanted to do a piece to camera for Shape Your Place – Cambridge. At first they declined – understandably. Bloke in his mid 30s comes up to you and asks for you to put your opinions to camera, most people would say ‘no’. I assumed that this was par for the course of being a normal journalist & left it at that. 10 minutes later they came back and asked if they could change their mind. I was also mindful in another conversation I had with a couple of other students recently that young people were sometimes frightened to speak up on political issues because they don’t want to be criticised or ridiculed in public/online.

What they said was eye-opening because they were all from different countries with very different backgrounds yet had similar perspectives on Cambridge as a city and their experiences at one of our state sixth form colleges. Having had conversations with students and parents from schools and colleges across the city, the picture is becoming even more clear about the challenges faced by institutions in Cambridge. What’s worse is the institutional structures and cultures across the city are too close-minded to deal with what are common challenges. Other students in further education that I’ve met recently have also said things along similar themes – which makes me think the problem is at least city-wide (if not nationwide). The bit that I’m working on is what our city’s response is.

Hence this

It’s work in progress, but progress has been significant over the past couple of weeks. Watch this space.




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