Past Present-Future is a 25-minute video documentary made for and about the Working Class Movement Library, a Charitable Trust located in Salford. Their primary aims are the preservation, conservation, dissemination and study of British and Irish labour history from the 1760's to the present day.
The Making of Past - Present - Future.
The film is not only about the history of the Library, the individuals who set it up and how it operates but also why working class voices and history still have important things to say to to-day's political and cultural debates.
In early March 2003 I started a long journey that in November 2005 reached its destination, or at least a major staging post, with the premiere of Past Present Future at the 2005 Salford Film Festival. It is a 25-minute video documentary made for, and about, the Working Class Movement Library, a Charitable Trust located at Jubilee House in Salford. The building's 38 rooms, contain many thousands of books, pamphlets, prints, banners, photos and important items relating to the last two hundred years of labour history.
Ruth and Eddie Frow in the 1970s
This remarkable archive is the lifetime achievement of bibliophiles, historians and political activists, Ruth and Eddie Frow, who for 40 years collected and amassed this material in their modest South Manchester semi-detached home. It eventually moved to its present premises in the mid-1980's and continues, like Topsy, to expand. Although it's recognised in Britain and abroad as one of the most important collections of its kind, it could and should be better known, especially by Trade Unionists.
I'd been a 'Friend' of the WCML for many years and discussed with Michael Herbert, Chair of the Trustees, how my filmmaking skills might be used to raise the Library's public profile. A documentary treatment followed and we sought funding. Michael and myself had a meeting with North West Vision's Funding Officer, Helen Bingham, (who hadn't even bothered to read the proposal as the word 'television' was included in the title) and we were informed that it didn't come within the Regional Screen Agency's remit.
So Thanks, but no thanks.
We were disappointed but weren't exactly'surprised at this rejection. However Michael went away with his usual resourcefulness and determination, to apply for money elsewhere and eventually he came up a small budget we could work with.
In downtime, between freelance sound editing contacts, (my day job), I borrowed a PD150 DV camera from Penny Morris and Ernie Dalton of North West Spanner, to record events, interviews and activities at the Library over many months.
About a year later, video editor Faisal A. Qureshi and myself began putting the footage together. This involved a collaborative way of working, with regular rough-cuts provided to the WCML to see that we were on the 'right tracks'. Working on a shoe-string budget involved the calling in of a lot of favours from friends and colleagues.
It is heartening to know that our media industry still has many sympathetic people willing and able to support worthwhile projects. The journey has involved hard work and 'plenty of it', to cite Robert Tressell, I have become confident in using a DV camera, had an introduction to Final Cut Pro editing software via the expertise of Faisal, located and negotiated the use of archive footage from a variety of sources, interviewed and got to know the group of committed volunteers and workers who keep the Library going, received training in Pro Tools to track-lay the production at the Soundhouse, Manchester, and persuaded the composer and musician Steve Hopkins (pictured below) to write and record an original score.
Having devised several musical 'themes' beforehand, in time honoured silent movie fashion, Steve performed them in the studio, on his keyboard, as the picture sequences requiring music were screened in real time in front of him.
An unconventional approach, which saved time (and money) whilst giving an improvised freshness to the incidental music.
John, Christopher Eccleston and Faisal Qureshi at the commentary recording session
Finally, the commentary was spoken by Christopher Eccleston, who gave freely of his time as his contribution to the project. This is why he did it.
'They showed me the film first which I think is a cracking piece of work and anything that goes to further the interests of the working classes, who basically built this country, is important to me, so I was happy to help. I don't think enough people know of the Library's existence and that was one of the ideas behind the film and one of the reasons why I wanted to do the narration.'
It has given the finished DVD a professional cachet, which hopefully will enable it to reach a wider audience. Initially 1,000 copies of the DVD were produced and have been sent, to current and potential supporters of the Library. It has been a great success and another run of 500 copies is in the pipeline. It has already been screened at the TUC, at BECTU Conference this summer in Eastbourne and at several local meetings. An outreach initiative takes it out with a speaker and video screen to interested groups in the region.
Free loan copies are available from the wcml for any trade union branches who wish to enliven their agendas. And does John have any final thoughts?
'The DVD is an edited and structured snapshot of a specific two year period in the Library's development. Like all documentary, it can never be a definitive record because things alter and time moves on. It already needs to be updated to reflect changes in personnel, funding and important additions to the collection. Where does one stop? Maybe in a few years I'll go back and do an update. Fortunately the questions it asks and the issues it raises gives it a long 'shelf-life' and I believe it will remain relevant for a long while yet.'
21st July 2006