Secret City (2012)

A reception diary

Authored by: Michael Chanan , Lee Salter

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415717397
eBook ISBN: 9781315678863
Adobe ISBN: 9781317392460


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Secret City (Chanan and Salter, 2012) is a David and Goliath story. The Corporation of the City of London is at the heart of a lobbying network that spends £93m a year on behalf of finance capital. Secret City, which unmasks the Corporation, started out with a zero budget and was completed with university funding of just £7,200 – and no budget at all for marketing and publicity. In two words, an example of ‘small media’. It was made over the first nine months of 2012 by a team of four people (two academics and two interns), and then launched with a screening at the House of Commons in October. A year later, it had been screened around ninety times up and down the country, always to full houses, at community, cultural and university venues, alongside independent cinemas. This was only possible by taking an integrated approach to the use of the social media, and it demonstrates the potential of the web to discover an ‘audience-in-waiting’ that is not served by broadcast media or conventional film distribution – nor the expense of marketing. The parallel outlets provided by the web are vital to creating the presence that produces dissemination through the dynamics of social networking. With non-commercial production sans a marketing and publicity budget, the web becomes the crucial means for making links with cultural, community and campaign groups and thereby organising the public screenings through which the film finds an audience and enters into dialogue with them around the issues. There are many negative things to be said about the forms of sociality found on the web; this is one of the positives. From the first, the film was highly commended as, for example, “a revelatory insight into the Vatican of contemporary finance” (Lustgarten 2012) and “a powerful, fascinating and terrifying documentary” (Ollerton 2013). It was not reviewed in the mainstream press, but took the best documentary award at the London Independent Film Festival 2013. Jasper Sharp, picking his Five Best of 2013 at Midnight Eye, called it “a brilliant example of micro-budget guerrilla filmmaking that really hits its target” (Sharp 2013). Not the sort of thing that will ever play on TV or in conventional cinemas, he said, it certainly needs to be seen by a lot more people, “but its makers have been doing a wonderful job of bringing it to audiences through the festival circuit and special pop-up screenings” (ibid.).

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