Greenbelt at 40 DVDForty years of faith, arts and justice

Blue Hippo Media
70 minutes + 6 minute bonus feature

Given that the 2012 Greenbelt festival featured 39.4 days of programming, editing down four decades of the event's history to 70 minutes requires ruthless removal of shortlisted footage, a keen ear to pick up what has been important over that time, and sympathetic discernment to make the film feel 'right' to festival goers.

As someone who has been to Greenbelt (with a short break in the late '90s – our young kids weren't too keen at that stage) since the second festival in 1975, I can testify that this is one bang-on editing job.

Greenbelt started out as a Christian arts festival and has since clarified its focus as 'faith, art and justice'. It is probably the oldest and longest-lasting Christian festival of its type anywhere in the world, pre-dating Holland's Flevo and outliving  America's Cornerstone. This record is no talking heads piece, as images from its history constantly flow beneath the commentators' voices.

The early years backing music from Malcolm and Alwyn, Norman Barratt, After the Fire and Larry Norman catches the mood of those times; private setting-out-from-home footage gets inside the festival-goer's life and a well-chosen selection of commentators reflects the leading lights of the event's history (with the possible exception of Bishop Graham Cray, a wise speaker and former festival chairman, who makes no appearance here).

The film records Greenbelt's formation as a Christian arts festival, begun by a strange collaboration of hippies, farmers and a wealthy benefactor, at a time when no one knew what it might become. But that evolution seamlessly progresses here, charting Greenbelt's bravery in pushing for more, whether in addressing global issues (apartheid, Nicaragua, Palestine) or simply the place of the arts in the Church.

“When you do music or do art, It is attractive to explore the boundaries,” says former chair Dot Reid, “and therefore you encounter the walls”. So inevitably the film covers the PR disaster of 'Year of the Witch and the Willies,” when the seminar line-up included an interview with a Wiccan and the arts programme had displays of male nudity. Though only a small part of the event, that perfect storm harmed the festival by frightening off youth groups, losing thousands of pounds and regulars, and on top of the havoc wreaked by the tail-end of Hurricane Charlie a few years earlier, Greenbelt's very viability was threatened.

But the tone of the story changes once the event finds a new all-weather home at the present Cheltenham racecourse and numbers increase by a couple of thousand each year.

The strong appeal to Greenbelters is obvious, but will it be a satisfying view for others? Quite possibly. This movie has a story arc and those who love Cornerstone, for example, could find the parallels and differences fascinating. Like many well-made documentaries, it gets right inside the life of a community.

“Greenbelt doesn't go for the ears, it goes for the whole person” says youth worker Pip Wilson, as the film looks at how the festival might develop. It has already begun to sire smaller events in Bethlehem, Scotland and the States, but that is for the future to reveal. Greenbelt at 40 is about the story so far and records it brilliantly.

Derek Walker

{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}