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Interview: Emily James, Director of 'Just Do It' says 'Get off your arse and change the world!'

After over 10 years of working in the Broadcast Media biz with Channel Four, E4 and Discovery US, the subversive, award winning film director Emily James has set about devising a totally unique production model to fund and distribute her pioneering new project. The film, Just Do It documents the inside story on the UK's biggest trouble makers, featuring the innovative climate change activist groups Climate Camp, Climate Rush and Plane Stupid.

Back in 2002, while still a film student the Guardian wrote 'Emily James is a genius… and will in time be revered as a television innovator'. Just Do It, lives up to that claim. In our interview we discover more about the autonomy of the crowd via match funding, the freedom of Creative Commons, and inciting people to take action (including someone from Top Gear!).

The Just Do It match fund campaign with Lush Cosmetics Ltd ends on 31 Oct, the target is £20k. For every pound you give, Lush will match it (Run Riot gave £20 - every bit helps, right!). You can donate via their website here:

A special rough cut preview (2x 20min) of the film will be screened at The Frontline Club on Fri, 29th Oct. The completed, fully edited (90min) version will be distributed in Spring 2011.



RR: What was the personal trigger for you to get of your arse and make this film?

EJ: In 2008 I was invited to film a couple of actions (The Drax Coal Train and Plane Stupid Stanstead). Immediately I saw that an important and moving film could be made by working with the activists to document the lead-up, preparation, and execution of their civil disobedient actions. By making a full length film, and showing the audience the people behind the actions, I hoped to make something which would move their story beyond the 24 hour news cycle, and take it to a wider audience in a more detailed way.


RR: What led you to move away from the established method of film making, to what some may call a naive way of working?

EJ: Having had some initial conversations with broadcasters, it became clear to me that this film would have to be made independently so that I could do justice to the story and to the spirit of the community that I was filming with. I had been making films for TV for over 10 years, and knew the compromises involved, and wasn't prepared to make them on this particular film. Once that choice had been made, and with the support of the team that was gathering to help me, I decided to go the whole hog, and attempt to make the project in keeping with the principles of cooperation and system critique that characterised the communities in the film - ie giving it away as a Creative Commons project, and harnessing the power of crowds to make and fund the film.


RR: The Match Fund model you're working with couldn't be more topical, and will quite likely become the norm' very soon. With the Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing the Spending Review (12:30, Weds, 20 Oct 2010), the creative industries will need to source funds from the private sector more than before. All the while, the ‘Big Society’ urges 'responsibility and respect' from the 'crowd'. You're running the Match Fund Campaign Just Do It with Lush Cosmetics Ltd and the public 'crowd' - in a nutshell, what are the pros and cons?

EJ: Crowd funding is about giving prospective audiences more say over what gets made, so in that way, it's empowering. I think that it points in a good direction, and encourages people to be less passive in their relationship to the media that they consume. But it's not an answer to the lack of public funding, but rather a response to it, born out of necessity. The 'pro's are that you can make a film with the support of a wide group of people who will help you to get that film out when it's made, and you can make that film without editorial or stylistic constraints. The 'con' is that it takes a huge amount of effort and time, which could otherwise go into making your film, and also that it only really works for certain types of films which can motivate enough people to give.


RR: Just Do It is licensed by Creative Commons, how does this influence the project creatively and financially?
Financially it means that we needed to raise money as donations, rather than as investment, since we can not expect to have much direct income from the film. It also means that we are pretty broke most of the time, because this new relationship (enabler rather than paying consumer) is new to most audiences, and will take time for people to come to. Creatively it means that we can focus on making the film which we think will be the best contribution to our greater shared culture, and free ourselves from thinking about how to pull people in at the box office, or appeal to the widest possible television audience.


RR: The Copenhagen Climate Conference failed to deliver, and climate issues took a back seat. But not for long we sense! With the UN Biodiversity Convention (CBD COP 10, 18-29 Oct) in Japan this week along with Climate Rush instigating awareness campaigns, Climate Change is taking a front seat once again. Institutional complacency is being challenged, even arts organisations who receive 'dirty money' are being challenged. What tips can you offer people who want to Get off their arse and change the world? If someone from Top Gear can get of their arse, then surely anyone can?!

EJ: It's very easy to get involved in climate activism, and there are groups for all levels of engagement. If you think that you're ready for direct action, go a long to the next Climate Camp or Climate Rush meeting. If you're not quite ready to chain yourself to something, you can support these groups financially, or you can join larger organizations like Greenpeace. If you think that lobbying is more effective, sign up to something like 38degrees or Avaaz. In addition, most areas have a Transition Towns group, which is great for local, practical activities. But most importantly, start being vocal about your opinions. Let your MP know what you care about, complain to corporations who do things you don't approve of, and actively support those who are trying to make the world a better place.



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