Open City Documentary: The Occupiers – Review

The 99% is a phrase that has seeped into common awareness in the years since the great financial crash of 2008. The level of wealth inequality in the 21st century is staggering, currently it is estimated that the richest 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the poorest 90% put together.

With statistics like this, it is no wonder that the past decade or so has seen a dramatic increase in angry, vocal, impassioned protests railing for change in the name of the common good. The Occupy Movement is one of the more famous recent versions of  these protest, and thanks to film-maker and activist Chloe Ruthven, we now get a rare glimpse of the front line of the infamous Occupy London protest of a few years back.

Over 136 days at the end of 2011, protesters came together to undertake a mass live-in just outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Armed with a camera and a need to document history in the making, Ruthven dove head first into the camp, and has now whittled down hundreds of hours of footage into a tight, eighty minute, warts and all account of the protest.

The tone is journalistic, and there is little flashy editing here, with Ruthven preferring to let the camera roll and capture whatever is happening in the semi-organised chaos around her. Interviews with camp residents help to bring individual stories to the collective, showing us the surprising diversity of the inhabitants.

As one activist notes, Occupy London was a microcosm of society itself, and the film reflects that, featuring a wide range of characters, from impassioned young optimists to members of the older generation who have found purpose again through the means of protest. Not all of the interviewees featured are particularly pleasant, but the film offers each one a voice and leaves the judgement up to the audience.

Although the film comes four years after Occupy London ended, it still offers an important alternative view to that of the mainly negative mainstream media of the time. Although the film is probably destined for a niche audience, it deserves to be seen by many more. Whether your particular bias leads you to view to participants as dirty hippies or proactive political heroes, you have to admire the dedication of people who gave up all the mod cons and comforts of 21st Century living to brave a British winter on  the streets standing up for what they believe.

Although the director is squarely on the side of the protesters, and the the film is ultimately positive and hopeful, it does not shy away from showing the negative elements surrounding the camp. Approximately half way through the protest and the film, the camp begins to have vulnerable people flooding in and diluting the political message, bringing instead inebriation and unease. The second half of the film begins to show the emotional effect this life is having on protesters, and certain scenes can be quite upsetting.

However despite the sometimes emotionally draining content and matter of fact presentation style, The Occupiers is a unique and necessary snapshot of a turbulent time, equally effective in showing both the intimate minutiae of day to day life and the grand political ideals that defined Occupy London.


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