London Riots – “Why has this happened?” – by The Progress Film Company


The Progress Film Company, based in Brighton, UK, documented the widespread rioting which hit London earlier this month. Their film listens to reactions, debates and discussions from the community residents and provides a powerful insight into the thoughts and reasoning of those involved and affected.

The idea for the documentary came from Progress shooter/editors Josh Thompson and Liam White, who found themselves absorbed in the 24 hour news coverage of the escalating trouble in London last week.  The lure of the action proved too much and so they packed a Canon 5D MkII kit and jumped on the first train to Clapham Junction.  Upon stepping out the station onto the High Road, they were immediately engulfed in chaotic scenes of looting, vandalism and violence.

Josh and Liam worked quickly and quietly, with one person taking the camera out of their bag and shooting while the other kept watch.  By remaining relatively discreet they were able to capture scenes of missiles being thrown at police, rioters breaking into shops and looting, as well as violence aimed towards members of the public who tried to intervene.

After seeing one photographer assaulted and having his camera smashed, they started shooting with an iPhone4 and a Flip UltraHD from the heart of the action, walking through the looting crowds as they smashed their way in and out of high street shops.  Again they worked quickly, passing through each area swiftly before regrouping.

Upon reviewing the footage with the Progress team that evening, it was quickly agreed that they should keep shooting despite having no clear story or news agenda.  Josh and Liam returned to Clapham the next morning to document the reactions of those involved in – and affected by – the riots.  We wanted to listen to the discussion on the street rather than present a story or show the chaos that the news was broadcasting. A 5D mkII allowed us to get close to those involved without intimidating them and once we’d started shooting, a crowd gathered to join in the debate.

Upon reviewing the new footage it became increasingly clear that there was a message on the street that the news broadcasters did not seem to be focusing on. Residents were talking about the inevitability of something like this happening.  With an editor in the studio running through the footage with a detached view, we were able to build a story that focused on the issues rather than getting too involved with the initial violence.

With that in mind, we spent a further two days shooting in other affected communities around London such as Croydon, Tottenham and Hackney, asking members of those communities affected “why has this happened?”  The answers to this question were far from clear-cut – racially, politically, economically or otherwise – with fingers being pointed to far reaching issues that in some cases go back generations.

Our aim with the editing of this film was to keep the feeling of discussion open – we used the camera to listen rather than to enforce an agenda, so in turn we chose to keep away from cutaways during the narrative of the film. Sim from Audio For Media (www.audioformedia.com) composed a soundtrack for the piece that added a cinematic edge to the interviews – we we’re worried about it being to overbearing for an observational documentary but he bridged the gap perfectly.

What develops on screen is a very powerful insight into communities that we all thought we understood, but in reality know very little about.

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