In the back streets of Glasgow's salubrious Merchant City, nestled in the third floor of a stone tenement block, an unlikely battle is being fought. Here in the Glasgow Media Access Centre lies the home of the Camcorder Guerillas (sic). Made up of a collective of volunteers, the Guerillas come together to tackle awareness of social justice issues. Their chosen weapon is the trusty, rusty camcorder - once used to capture hours of drunken wedding parties and generic family holidays. The Guerillas use it to document what the mainstream media often shies from - tales of injustices committed in our own backyards.
From its inception in 2002 the Guerillas have grown from the discontent of three professional filmmakers to a collective spanning filmmakers, producers, editors, designers, artists, campaigners and students. They pool these skills to give a platform for the marginalized and disadvantaged, to expose the impact of government legislation on individuals and communities, to protest and inspire action.
The six campaigning films to date encompass local grassroots and human rights issues. In 2004, the Guerillas recorded the plight of asylum-seekers and refugees evicted from their homes with 'Welcome', and with 'Voiceseekers' documented the stories of four refugees from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, and Uganda and their quest for asylum in Scotland. Also in 2004, the Guerillas exposed the campaign of Glasgow mother Rose Gentle, whose son was a solider killed in Iraq, with 'Dear Mrs Blair', a video letter to Cherie Blair. Through the mask of a pseudo-tourist video 2005's 'Visit Dungavel: Monster of the Glen' explores the detainment of asylum-seekers in Scotland's detention centre. In July that year, the Guerillas took their campaign global with 'Why Close the G8? Gleneagles 2005' which questions the superpowers' bid to end world poverty. This was distributed to the 40,000+ readers of The Big Issue Scotland magazine. Their other films have been screened monthly at Mono in Glasgow, premiered at The Glasgow Film Theatre and The Edinburgh Filmhouse, showcased to schools across the country and to a private screening of MSPs at the Scottish Parliament.
Their films fuse animation, documentary, original music and drama - they aim to offer an alternative means of engaging and educating their audience. The Guerillas have reworked the traditional campaigning film - usually associated with grim faces and beaten brows - instead they've combined familiar, contemporary means to contemplate serious issues in a human and often humorous way. Their films are accessible and subversive: mocking the limitations of government and mainstream media and have caught the attention and the funding of Awards For All, Scotland Unlimited and the Glasgow City Arts Council. Their rebellious style has also won them awards from Amnesty International UK, the National Union of Journalists and the Beyond TV Festival.
Liberated from the purse-string constraints and the editorial pressure of mainstream media, non-profit groups like Camcorder Guerillas have the freedom to work without fear of retribution or the withdrawal of favour. But this freedom is also fraught with difficulties. An independent media is born to expose issues previously ignored, or hidden beneath layers of partiality by more conventional forms. They want to be set apart from political and commercial influences and seek to tell a more balanced view of a policy, situation or system. They hope to empower their audience, give them the space to come to their own conclusions, and to become active participants in their own drama. But the danger is that 'independent' groups can too often go too far. They risk becoming as extreme as the forces they seek to oppose, and can end up alienating the audiences they seek to inform. An audience made up of the converted does nothing to challenge the status quo.
The ethos of the Camcorder Guerillas is sincere, as is their commitment to the issues they document. Their films are neither sensationalised nor self-righteous; they show us the human faces and stories that are often overshadowed by spin. As it should be, their camcorders are the link between the oppressors and the oppressed, the tool and not the agent of their message.