I often hear a lot of people bemoan the state of television programming today, there are claims that T.V has sunk to levels of vapid superficiality, i.e. programming with no real substance or class. Last night whilst indulging in some late night viewing I stumbled across a piece of television which most certainly broke the mould, I urge all of you reading this to check out ‘Our Crime: Riot’, part of BBC Three’s crime season. The programme focused on the events of early August last year when anarchy descended upon numerous boroughs across London (later spreading to other major cities), apparently in response to the controversial police shooting of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan. Rather than following the well trodden path of celebrity presenter ‘investigating’ the events of those fateful few days this piece of television was driven by those closest to the action, using real time footage shot by those on the scene, indeed the majority of the footage was captured on nothing more sophisticated than your average smart phone.
The programme put me in mind of a film made in 1980 by American documentary maker Connie Field, entitled ‘The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter’. That film focused on the experiences of American women during World War Two, who in the absence of their male counterparts took up positions in factories and dockyards across the U.S. Like ‘Our Crime’ the film was testimony led and the narrators of the piece were a set of recurring characters who relayed their experiences to the camera, with the filmmaker herself never actually appearing on screen. The effect of using such filmic techniques was to hand over power to those featured in the film, rather than allowing it to reside with the production team, as such viewers were given a personal and powerful insight into social and personal issues which were a by product of this testing period of American history. ‘Our Crime’ harnessed the techniques used in ‘Rosie’ and as such created a piece of programming which belonged to the public, providing a unique take on the most radical social event I have witnessed in my life time.
As I have previously mentioned footage of the riots contained within ‘Our Crime’ was captured on scene by the people interviewed in the programme, on mobile phones or simple cameras grabbed at a moment’s notice as the general public became filmmakers, inadvertently capturing some of the most iconic footage ever broadcast on British television. There was no sense of a glossy T.V crew filming events from a distance, these were gritty pictures captured in an unpredictable, volatile environment with no pre conceived narrative. As with ‘Rosie’ the filmmakers and interviewers responsible for creating ‘Our Crime’ never make an appearance on screen, their role is simply to speak to the real stars of the show, those who lived in the areas devastated by the rioters and catalogued the events as they took place. This is a piece of television which utilises people power, in the same manner that Arab television company Al Jazeera has created various online documentaries surrounding the issue of the so called ‘Arab Spring’, which heavily features mobile phone footage shot by people involved in the revolutions which have swept their way across the Arab world. Programmes such as ‘Our Crime’ are the future of documentary making, using the most valuable resource available, the people involved. By letting those at the forefront of the issue take control of the programme, the BBC has made readily identifiable television, simply brimming with raw emotion and genuine feeling.
As a public service broadcaster it is my view that the BBC has an obligation to the licence payers who fund their production, with ‘Our Crime’ the BBC has fulfilled that obligation and then some. This was the BBC giving something back; in fact it almost made amends for atrocities such as ‘White Van Man’ and ‘World Series of Dating’ which I have been unfortunate enough to view on occasion. As well as being a fantastic example of production, it is my belief that this programme goes someway to restoring faith in humanity, the same faith destroyed by the riots themselves. One need only look at Pauline Pearce, a grandmother featured in the programme who has attained cult status following her filmed rant in Hackney, berating the senseless actions of the rioters and calling for people to fight for a real cause. People such as Pauline Pearce too often go unnoticed, they are rarely given due credit for their selfless acts of heroism but on this occasion the BBC did just that. So props to the BBC and in particular those behind the faultless ‘Our Crime: Riot’ programme, I just hope that there is more to come!
P.S. For UK residents you can click here to view the program in iplayer and as ever feel free to tweet me your thoughts @LiamMucklow.