Just do it as reviewed in Phantom TollboothA year behind the scenes at environmental action protest camps

Label: Dogwoof
Time: 90 minutes

It is well known in Britain that if anything seems to be a problem the first response is to make a cup of tea. As environmental protests are all about stopping what is going wrong, director Emily James begins her documentary about a network of climate activists with a protestor making herself a cuppa.

Protest camps tend to have a reputation. Some think of them as full of the lazy unwashed, others that the protesters have little idea of how the real world works and others still that they are a hotbed of violent agitators.

Fully aware of these stereotypes, James armed herself for a year with the smallest videos recorders she could muster (both because of the weight and to keep the filming more clandestine) and made a film of life behind the scenes at a series of protest camps in the UK.

She follows a small group of individuals in camps protesting at the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters, Heathrow’s third runway, the Ratcliffe-on-Stour and Didcot power stations, as well as filming at the 2010 Copenhagen summit and at London’s The Wave, which preceded it. There is also coverage of the Vestas wind turbine factory, as protestors smuggle in fish and chips to sustain the workers in their lock-in.

The film shows the change of police tactics following the death of Ian Tomlinson at a protest in London and clearly shows that the Danish police have fewer scruples about using their force.

These protestors – particularly those in Climate Rush and Plane Stupid – are largely intelligent, white middle-class girls who want to make their life count for something in the face of an impending catastrophe. Most have no illusions about the degree to which they have an effect, but want to make their stand anyway.

James admits that she has no intention of being impartial (I was surprised to see how much she gives away the protestors’ tactics) and it helps that she does not pretend to be. A decidedly light touch is part of her strategy and so this is fast-paced, lo-fi, chummy and entertaining.

The protestors are clearly intelligent (we follow at least one Cambridge graduate) but the film itself lacks analysis of the issues or the particular facts that swung them into action. So while James tries to enlist our admiration for the protesters’ commitment, she fails to give the undecided viewer any reasons for supporting their cause.


Derek Walker