10.0d Collective split 1994 - 1996

I decided not to focus my research on the contentious details of the collective split which occurred formally in October 1994 or attempt any formal judgements that would serve no purpose at this time except to probably open old wounds. It was a very acrimonious argument but, referring to the published accounts, it is not easy to see what the argument was about. It seems to have built up for at least a year previous to October 1994, but even before that there were inevitable stresses to doing regular shows on a voluntary basis.[1]

The programme for the sixth show at the Jugglers on the 29th May 1993 shows dissatisfaction and tiredness creeping in: Inside the front cover John Carr or Andy Lowe wrote:

WHO ARE YOU?  Do you care about the films you watch or are they just pretty colours and something arty to accompany a social evenings drink? Certainly the Exploding Cinema has worked hard developing an exciting atmosphere for filmmakers and performers to show their work but have we lost our way?

Once the Exploding Cinema audience was just a large group of friends but now it is edging towards a faceless crowd and it is becoming hard for the people organising the event to feel quite so at home. WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THIS NEW DISTANCE? MAYBE IT'S JUST A QUESTION OF FEEDBACK?

After all the Exploding Cinema belongs to everyone and that includes the audience. It would be nice to see some new blood emerging from that faceless crowd to help to run the event.

This may be simply the stress of putting on regular shows or it may indeed be a premonition of the disquiet to come. Later at a meeting on 1st June 1993, John, Duncan and Jenny complain of being overworked that there has been a 'Loss of control and fun'. They ask the question; 'Is the Jugglers Arms too big?' In a subsequent meeting on 6th June it was noted that Las Casas had been more intimate. Bigger audiences are inevitably audiences of strangers. But worse was to come - after the Lido show the collective had grown to an impractical degree.[2]

There seem to have been personality clashes, disillusionment and general angst which created a conflict which then snowballed in reaction to the animosity generated by the conflict itself as much as any substantive issues.

An account, published in Donal Ruane's 'KinoKaze' magazine,[3] gives the following as reasons: 'The group, it was felt, had become stale and oppressive, the shows formulaic and boring.'  The 'anything could happen' feel of the early shows in which 'every show was different' had evaporated leaving a predictable formula. The collective had grown, it is claimed in KinoKaze, to nearly fifty following the Lido Event. Open meetings became impractical leaving people feeling unheard.

In September 1994 after a series of 'crisis' meetings very little was resolved and many felt it was time to call it a day. Soon after this, the treasurer Anthony Kopiecki froze the Exploding Cinema bank account. Nearly £1000 has remained there to this day (it was never his intention to steal this money as some have alleged). On the 2nd October 1994 the last Exploding Cinema meeting was held at the 121 Bookshop in Brixton. At this meeting it was agreed to formally dissolve Exploding Cinema whilst keeping all the equipment together in a common pool for all the Exploding people to use.[4] Paddy Payne (KinoKaze 3 1995)[5]

This meeting was not recorded in the minute books that I examined and the Kinokaze account does not give any details of whom attended.[6] The remaining group had a meeting on the 20th October, which is recorded in the minute books I examined in dramatic but cryptic fashion:

As of this date the Exploding Cinema (group) is SPLIT (not really) into various creatures [rubber stamp of cow] and /OR the Exploding Cinema hard core become the EXPLODING CINEMA COLLECTIVE.[7]

This is witnessed by sixteen signatures, four of which are illegible. They include Duncan Reekie and Jennet Thomas, who were in the initial Cooltan group, along with Caroline Kennedy, Paul Tarrago, Colette Rouhier, Kerry Sharp, James Stevens, and Anne Brus. A further four are represented by initials, one of which is likely to be Katia Rossini and another Danny Holman. Rosalind Grainger, Silvy da Silva, Ghisli Bergman and Fiona Lord were also part of this group.[8]

The group's collectively owned equipment was kept in the house in Rodwell Road, East Dulwich, occupied by Jenet Thomas and Duncan Reekie at this time.[9] A year later the ownership of the equipment was still a serious bone of contention.

On September 2 1995, after a film show in a North London pub, The Exploding Cinema video projector was repossessed by myself and some colleagues. Paddy Payne (KinoKase 3)

A possible explanation of the acrimonious nature of this split could lie in the question of ownership. As a voluntary worker, producing income which is then spent on equipment, one feels some ownership of that equipment after a certain amount of time is put in.[10] If forced to leave this 'investment' is not easily recouped and could become a source of resentment. This resentment can then becomes entangled with more inter-subjective disputes, leading to outright conflict.

Even in collectives where this difficulty is faced and hours worked are recorded and reflected in their rights of ownership, there still exists the problem of peoples different levels of productivity.  This still results in ill feeling, and 'survival of the fittest' types of resolution are prevalent.[11]

The people who left have not as far as I am aware formed any other film groups in the same public arena as Exploding Cinema.[12]

Such conflicts leave a terrible legacy of negative feelings that poison wide areas of the underground network. Personal attacks on Duncan and Colette through abusive stickers were still evident at our shows at George IV in May 1997.[13]

The extent to which such unresolved conflicts and their resulting emotional pollution have stunted the growth of radical networks can only be guessed at. These aspects of collective working are seriously in need of a cultural solution. At present they are in the head lock of a machismo which will not allow caring for each other and methods of conflict resolution, which have been seen as 'female' realms, to become a part collective practice.

The questions which probably need to be answered before this can be approached are; How can voluntary collective work be properly validated? How is critical feedback handled? And what methods of conflict resolution can be offered at an early stage?

It is remarkable that after such a traumatic split Exploding Cinema Collective remained 'open' to any interested newcomer. This means that anyone in the audience can join the collective and 'get involved' in putting on shows and have an equal say in meetings. This policy may be declared more enthusiastically when there is a shortage of members (remembering that the core group can maintain the collective but to put on shows at least eight people are required). 

However, it was hard for me to feel a sense of equal ownership even after two years and quite a lot of work, which is probably due to the depth of identification that early bonding and surviving a crisis gives you. This is the perennial problem that such collectives face - how to renew themselves and take on fresh blood.[14]

During the period of study, 1997 - 1999 the collective seemed very stable. Colette dropped out for a year but Paul Motel and Damon Herd joined and made strong contributions. There were no collective rows of any substance.

_______________________________________________

NEXT >



[1] In a meeting on 6th December 1992 there were detailed reports of a bad show at Las Casas from: 'Joel, Anthony, William, Anthony, Tara, Andre, Kathy, Duncan, Suzanne, Jenny, Katia & Donal'. Comments included: 'Poor attendance; poor projection; people turning up late; poor organisation; the work shown being too similar; superficial; and the whole thing was a shambles'. There had been pressure on Jenny to do all the transport.

 

[2] My own analysis of attendance records show a maximum of fifteen at a meeting but people have memories of many more and it may have been that these large meetings were not minuted.

 

[3] KinoKaze magazine (Issue 3 1995)

 

[4] Hiring policy: Motion 'Jb': The EC should set up a register of resources/ equipment available to members/makers. The register and the need for collective showing equipment was carried unanimously. (In October 1993 Extraordinary General Meeting)

 

[5] Other viewpoints are expressed in the Exploding programme of the 25th November 1995 'The Moral of the Story is Universal' (Colette Rouhier). See also efile: 'Warning' July 1995 (Duncan Reekie). Donal Ruane writing as Paddy Payne wrote the account quoted 'Obituary, Exploding Cinema, 1991 - 1994' KinoKaze (3 1995).

 

[6] It seems the group could have included Donal Ruane, John Carr, Andy Lowe, Anthony Kopiecki, Cathy Gibbs and Susanne Currid amongst others. The group included the group's treasurer whom then 'froze' the account, which contained about £1000.

 

[7] Minute Book 2: 20-10-94.

 

[8] As remembered by the current collective who were present.

 

[9] Minute Book 2, 15-9-94. ñCommunications links are still slave to the original core structureî (i.e. Rodwell Road), Duncan Reekie, Minutes 14-1-96.

 

[10] In July 1995 it had been unanimously agreed that the Exploding Cinema, ñno longer rents or loans the video projector to anyoneî. This would prove to be a resolution that was hard to strictly adhere to! (Minutes 22-7-95) e.g. In a meeting on 11th February 1996, attended by Sheik, Duncan, Colette and Steve, Sheik put pressure on the group to allow him to borrow equipment with no hire fee for 'no profit' events. Later there is a report of Fiona wanting to borrow equipment after she has left the collective. A change to the constitution was made in July 1997: ñMembership of the Exploding Cinema confers no absolute right of access to equipment outside of the Exploding Cinema's activities but does give members priority and discount on equipment hire.î Voted in unanimously. People borrowing equipment are now asked to pay a deposit of £50 per £100 of value plus a hire charge for 'profit making' use. Damages to be deducted from deposit. Membership definitions to be debated later. Sheik borrows equipment on the new conditions. (Minutes 28-7-97 AGM) (Present: Paul, Jennet, Stefan, Caroline, Colette, Thomas, Duncan, Sandra, (Sheik later)) Things worked out OK with Sheik. He was even charged £4 for a missing take up spool. In fact the effect of this new hard line policy seems to have put people off borrowing equipment altogether.

 

[11] This sort of argument was common in almost all the collectives I have been part of (see chapter one). The Sharsted Self-Build Co-op recorded labour contributions in some detail (I was the timekeeper). Fines for falling behind were severe and one member forfeited her 'sweat equity' and her right to shared ownership as a result.

 

[12] I did not attempt to contact or interview early collective members for two reasons: 1. My resources were already stretched and my focus was on the period in which I was part of the collective. 2. Contacting the people who had split off with the collective funds and had later forcibly 'reclaimed' the projector would have put my relations with the existing collective under severe strain. I leave it to future researchers to address this bias.

 

[13] Later my own 'Resonance FM' radio show in June 1998, in which various members of Exploding were coming in to be interviewed, was sabotaged by a radio technician who had been part of this conflict four years previously! I felt the heat of the conflict at this point in that I was angry that this technician's actions had threatened to ruin my show. Resonance FM was a London Musicians Coop project.

 

[14] "The kibbutz, the commune, the co-operative, are all striving after the person culture in organisational form. On the whole, only their original creators achieve any success. Too soon the organisation achieves its own identity and begins to impose on its individuals. It becomes, at best, a task culture, but often a power or a role culture".  Charles Handy, Understanding Organisations (Penguin, 1993 page 189)