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Occupy! (1976)


Main image of Occupy! (1976)
16mm, colour, 55 mins
DirectorGael Dohany
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
Commentary WritersMauro Manini;
 Ruth Petrie
PhotographyH.B. Trevelyan

Cast: Bill Nighy; Peter Postlethwaite; Julie Walters (Everyman Theatre Company players); workers at Kirkby Manufacturing & Engineering

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The story of an occupation and a work-in at the Fisher-Bendix factory in Kirkby is told through interwoven television clips documentary footage, personal recollection and performance by Liverpool's Everyman Theatre Company.

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Occupy! is both a record of and an act of solidarity with a factory strike and occupation. It was funded by the BFI Production Board during a brief period of mid-1970s political radicalism when the Board also funded films by London Women's Film Group, Cinema Action and the Berwick Street Collective, whose groundbreaking film The Night Cleaners (1975) was released the previous year. Filmmakers like Gael Dohany were committed to representing the struggles of the working class; at the same time they recognised a contradiction in making films about political struggle that were not themselves a part of that political struggle.

Liverpool's Everyman Theatre Company, which was involved in solidarity performances around the occupation itself, features heavily in Occupy! Pete Postlethwaite, Bill Nighy and Julie Walters, make some of their earliest performances on film, Postlethwaite and Nighy as union convenor Jack Spriggs and plant owner Harold King respectively, while Walters appears in two non-speaking roles. But Dohany undercuts the dramatisation from the start by juxtaposing the actors' performances with interview footage of the real-life 'characters' they play. While Postlethwaite's performance as an angry union leader ("Right, we're going out, and it's going to be a bloody long one") is instantly recognisable from such films as Brassed Off (d. Mark Herman, 1996), its theatricality is exposed by film of the real Jack Spriggs addressing an occupation meeting. Spriggs is performing just as much as Postlethwaite, but the cadences of his speech are more suited to the environment of a mass meeting than the stage.

Though the film is rich with traditional union language of 'working men', Occupy! doesn't neglect the role of women throughout the struggle, fighting both for parity in pay from employers and for an equal and self-organising part in the struggle itself. The problems of self-management as a co-operative are addressed, and one worker's admission that strikes and occupation break up the tedium of the job he hates suggests that work itself may be the problem. Ultimately, the struggle against capitalism is paramount.

To some extent Occupy! assumes its audience's political engagement and therefore frees itself to engage critically with the tactic of occupation at Fisher-Bendix. Many participants' reflections have less to do with recalling a time of action than involvement in an ongoing fight. Their freedom to question whether occupation was even a useful tactic gives Occupy! more power as a document of struggle than mere propaganda.

Danny Birchall

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Video Clips
1. The Fisher-Bendix factory (4:23)
2. The Ivor (Made a Million) Show (5:14)
Complete film (53:30)
Brassed Off (1996)
Big Flame, The (1969)
Nighy, Bill (1949-)
Postlethwaite, Pete (1945-2011)
Walters, Julie (1950-)
Political Film
Liverpool: Speaking Out