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Q&A with Paul Burgess, dir. of Protest Inc, at the Sheffield Doc Film Fest

Sunday 12 June 2016, by Abla Kandalaft

Paul Burgess is currently making a feature length documentary film to expose the suppression of protest and dissent by corporations and the collusion between NGOs and corporate power. The trailer is currently being shown at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your background as a film maker? How did you get started in the field?

I went to university and studied film and literature. I then started work as a runner in a TV facilities company. Some years later, I became a freelance editor working on documentaries, mainly for British TV and then eventually began directing and producing TV docs, for a range of international broadcasters. Editing is a good background to have as you gain a really good understanding of how films are put together and what is needed when you go out and film.

What sort of subjects have you tackled?

As both an editor and director, I have worked on a wide range of films covering political, historical, social and cultural issues. I always try to make films which have something meaningful to say. So for example, I made a film about the summer of 1976 (Summer of Heat, BBC) which is great fun, as it’s packed with stories about things like the birth of punk rock and the racially charged cricket matches between England and the West Indies, but it’s fundamentally about political upheaval and social change. I have also made a few drama documentaries; one about the rise of Catherine The Great, the ruler of Russia in the 18th century and others telling stories from the empire of Queen Victoria. All were films about power, wars, uprisings, and so on, and all with strong human stories that viewers can relate to. And among my credits are also documentaries about music, the environment, gay rights, poverty and trafficking of endangered species. 

How have you found working independently on Protest Inc. compared to working within a large organisation like the BBC?  

In the past, my TV documentaries were funded mainly by the BBC and other broadcasters. Often, the project has been set up and I am then invited to come along as director/ producer or editor. The great benefit is that the money is in place; you just have to work within the budget. There can be downsides in that you have various commissioning editors and executive producers attached to the project, all of whom may have their own agenda. As the director you don’t necessarily have the final say. Sometimes you need to work very hard to keep everyone happy, while also keeping true to your own ideas .
Working independently means you have to raise the money yourself. This can be very difficult and takes time. But you can then hopefully make the film you want to make. However, co-production partners will no doubt have opinons as well and you may still have to be flexible. Filmmaking is a collaborative process after all.

How did the idea of filming Protest Inc. come about? 
The idea came from a book call Protest Inc, The Corporatization of Activism, by Genevieve LeBaron and Peter Dauvergne, published by Polity. I had heard they were interested in getting it made into a film and when I read the book, I decided that this was right up my street, so I got in touch. 

How did you plan to fund it?  

Initially we got a grant to make the short trailer from Sheffield University, where one of the authors LeBaron is based.
Now I am hoping to raise money for the main film through my crowdfunding page on indiegogo www.igg.me/at/protestinc 

PROTEST INC SHORT TRAILER from Paul Burgess on Vimeo.

What hurdles did you face in adapting the book for screen? 
Making something that is essentially an academic thesis into a powerful and dramatic movie is not easy. We will need to track down the most compelling contemporary stories of protest and activism around the world. We’ll get involved with protest groups and hear their stories of courage and struggle; and we will shoot powerful interviews with activists, writers, journalists, 

How did you get your team (producers, assistants) together?  

So far the team is quite small. A couple of them are people I’ve worked with before and one other was recently introduced to me. All are deeply committed to the film.

How do you hope to circulate the film and to prevent it simply preaching to the converted?  

My aim is to have the film distributed internationally by renowned distributors and shown in cinemas, film festivals and at special screeings. I also hope the film will be broadcast around the world on TV and maybe eventually available on Netflix, itunes and other streaming platforms.

Find out more about Protest Inc here and catch the trailer at the Sheffield Doc Film Fest this week. For more on Paul’s work, you can visit his vimeo page.

Any message or comments?