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So That You Can Live (1982)

Courtesy of Cinema Action

Main image of So That You Can Live (1982)
Produced / Directed / Filmed / Edited byCinema Action
Financial AssistanceBritish Film Institute
MusicRobert Wyatt
 Scritti Politti
 Lindsay Cooper

Cast: Shirley Butts; Roy Butts; Royston Butts; Diane Butts

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Five years in the life of the Butts family from South Wales; Shirley and Roy and their children Diane and Royston. The film covers Cinema Action's growing relationship with the family.

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So That You Can Live developed from a project called The Social Contract, which Cinema Action began in the mid-1970s, with funding from the British Film Institute's Production Board. The group's first work in colour, The Social Contract was not completed as a single film but parts were shown during screenings. Some of the footage is now at the National Film and Television Archive and even these few reels demonstrate the breadth of the concept.

When filming for The Social Contract in 1976 in Treforest, South Wales, the filmmakers met Shirley Butts. She was union convenor at the GEC factory and was leading a strike by women for equal pay. Ann Guedes, founder member of Cinema Action, has recalled that "from the start we were making a different film." However, since Cinema Action itself was a communal filmmaking collective perhaps it is not so strange that they should have drawn such moving and sharp parallels between Shirley's work and family and her country's industrial history.

So That You Can Live is a reflective film. It contains many shots of people looking at the landscape and remembering changes or wondering what has lead to it looking the way it does. Cinema Action's campaigning films had stressed the interconnection of workers and their communities, notably The Miners' Film (1975) and UCS1 (1971), but So That You Can Live is different because of Shirley's presence. As a woman and mother, Shirley's reflection on union structures pose more searching questions perhaps than those of the male shop stewards heard in the earlier films. As Cinema Action said of the film, her story is "a continuous, conscious effort to grow, to learn and to teach, to work and to love".

This is Cinema Action's masterpiece. Growing from The Social Contract, it also seems a basis for Rocinante (1986), Cinema Action's first fiction film. It must also, of course, be reckoned as a major Welsh film, Wales being not just clich├ęd 'raw material' but an active participant.

Kieron Webb

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Video Clips
1. Our demands (4:52)
2. 'The union is my life' (2:37)
3. Country and city (4:00)
Production stills
Cinema Action