Ruth Heritage
Independent documentary filmmaker, tutor in Media and Cultural Studies at both the Universities of Salford and Lancaster

Video Activist Citizenship and the 'Undercurrents' Project in late 1990's Britain

Undercurrents is a video activist collective, currently based in Swansea, that has been producing and distributing politically engaged direct action and alter-globalisation videos since 1994. The 'alter-globalisation movement', thrust into the public eye at the 'battle of Seattle' (1999), marked a shift from local to global environmentalist actions. Part of this shift was an opening up of the internet to organisational use by direct action groups, creating networks of political action. In the UK, during the 1990's, the road protests, anti-CJA demonstrations, and other direct action groups similarly forged together for the J18 in 2000. This period saw a mass emergence of video activism.

Over the same period, British television saw a rise in the amount of programmes – docusoaps, reality tv, and first person filming – which placed individual citizens at the centre of the schedules, a process facilitated by integration and mobilisation of new technologies. New ICTs offer different forms of production and distribution, each contributing to a changing notion of citizenship. However, activist video continues to comment – albeit in different forms and on different platforms – on activism, actions, and activist identity. Undercurrents provides us with one narrative or story about how one organisation sought to construct a model of citizenship that is politically inspired.

There are two parts to this presentation. Firstly, I explore how Undercurrents negotiates mainstream television as an alternative / public sphere, through the use of documentary, actuality, and reality tv motifs. Using video footage from BBC's Video Diaries and Crimewatch alongside Undercurrents I note how this creates an 'undercurrents' citizen, with a shared collective identity and boundaries, which seeks ideological alignment. I conclude by observing potential limitations of such citizenship, through a discussion of video distribution and activist screenings, illustrated by Undercurrents footage.

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Peace Institute Slovenian Communication Association Dep't of Media Studies