Open City Documentary Festival 2019 – Focus: Solidarity, An Aesthetics Of Redaction

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In our latest text in our series of articles about new features at the festival. Hannah Paveck looks at Lucy Parker’s Solidarity, and the ways in which it handles information.

Black bars over redacted text, white letters on a black screen: Lucy Parker’s Solidarity (2019) plays with an aesthetics of redaction that turns on the concealment and disclosure of information. The film centres on the collective organising of the Blacklist Support Group, which was formed after the 2009 revelation of a construction industry blacklist, financed by major construction companies in the UK. The list—which included files on over 3,000 individual workers deemed to be “troublemakers” for trade union activity or raising health and safety issues—was used for vetting purposes and effectively denied employment to named workers.

In Solidarity, several of these workers read out their own redacted files: “a nasty piece of work” reads one; “described as ‘bad news’ by 7002 [REDACTED] and 7013 Main contact,” reads another. Here, as elsewhere in the film, the names of these documentary participants are conspicuously absent, asking the viewer to situate them differently, collectively. Pages of A4 are shown in hand and through close-up, stamped by those iconic redaction bars which, as Pamela M. Lee describes, visibly proclaim their invisibility.1)Pamela M. Lee, “Open Secret: The Work of Art between Disclosure and Redaction,” Artforum. May 2011. What or who they conceal is less important than their function as visual markers of concealment itself, which put into view the construction industry’s clandestine list and its systemic violation of workers’ rights.

Solidarity contrasts these redactions with unfolding disclosures, communicated through on-screen text sharply visible against a black screen. They culminate in a different list. Names of activist and political groups crowd the frame: confirmed targets of police spying and surveillance, identified by the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry. This disclosure is not unrelated; police supplied information to the blacklist. Yet, more powerfully, it signals how the film opens out to advocate for collective organising on a wider scale, manifesting the solidarity of its title. For Solidarity mobilises an aesthetics of redaction, only to complicate the idea that mere transparency or the act of revealing covert information is enough. 

Early on, a boom microphone enters a shot of an activist meeting, before the film cuts to an archival clip from a Parliamentary committee investigation into the blacklisting. The Chair asks for a microphone adjustment, requesting the manager of the blacklist, Ian Kerr, to speak louder. Solidarity does not simply confront the viewer with information, it asks them to listen – which requires continuous (re-)attunement. The film focuses in on different members of the Blacklist Support Group, as they communicate their frustrations with the five-year legal case that saw them gain financial compensation, but provided little chance to be heard. In a trial simulation exercise based around the Group’s protest action, a classroom of student lawyers is taught how to get the court to listen to and ultimately create empathy with their clients. Scenes at activist meetings model shared listening as a site of organising, inviting the viewer to attend to the voices of other union activists and victims of undercover policing, who raise widespread issues such as the casualisation of labour, workplace sexual harassment, and online vetting practices. To work together, Solidarity suggests, first requires a collective ear.

Hannah Paveck is a PhD candidate in Film Studies at King’s College London and a staff writer for Another Gaze.

Lucy Parker’s Solidarity screens on Saturday 7th September at Regent Street Cinema.

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1. Pamela M. Lee, “Open Secret: The Work of Art between Disclosure and Redaction,” Artforum. May 2011.