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Direct action at the co-op

A film-makers' festival gives youngsters the chance to work together. Reva Klein gets in on the act.

For all those prophets of doom ringing the alarm bells about the homicidal, nihilistic, drug-crazed yoof of today, viewing the Co-operative Young Film-Makers Festival should be compulsory. Sure, some of the film-makers may be punctured, tattooed and shaven within an inch of their scalps. But their skill, wit, sophistication and concern with the things that young people have always been concerned with make you realise that things are going to be all right, after all. They may look alienated and alienating, but their filmic questioning of where they fit into a rapidly changing world, and how to interpret the images around them are not so dissimilar to the youthful musings of their forebears and their narrative skills are probably a lot better.

The Co-operative has been backing this event for the last 30 years to engender the spirit of co-operative working among youngsters. "Film-making, particularly by young people, is very much a manifestation of co-operation," says Russell Gill, the festival organiser. "We're not looking for winners or the best film. We're looking for signs that the film-makers have enjoyed working together and have learned from the experience."

The idea of the festival started with a group of teachers involved in media education, who approached the then London Co-operative Society for support of a film-making project. The first festival took place in a community hall in Hackney, screening six films. But it wasn't until the late 70s, with the advent of video, that the venture took off. This year, there were 136 entries from all over the UK as well as participants from Ireland, Switzerland and Poland. Incorporated in the two days of screenings were free workshops on everything from sound effects and music, to swordfighting and interviewing skills.

Judging from the sheer breadth of subject matter, genre, the background of the film-makers, and the quality of many of the entries, the festival is succeeding as a catalyst for encouraging youngsters to work together. While many were from primary and secondary schools, there were also films and videos by youth clubs and friends.

One of the best must be The Animator by Three Bear Animations, aka sisters Bryony, Linnhe and Cadi Catlow of Ambleside. This is the latest offering from the Catlows, who have been entering the festival for years. Their claymation film about the grind and heartbreak of making animated films, focusing on the lonely Doodi, must be autobiographical and is all the more poignant for it. The days pass and the washing-up piles up as he moves his character's arm and builds his props. His dreams of just selling the film, let alone winning an Oscar, are dashed in a devastatingly wordless rejection and he goes home, throws the film on a pile of other rejects and cries through the night.

Another film drawn from personal experience came from Anupna Majhu, a student at Greenhill College, Harrow on the Hill. Perfect Machine is a portrayal of a bulimic woman who "thought the body could be redesigned, the perfect self-sufficient machine". We watch as she binges and then vomits as her voice-over tells us: "The more I denied my body, the louder it cried." We are given no insights into why she does it, nor why she ultimately slashes her wrist on the bowl from which she has just gorged herself. It's a haunting, verite style of film that leaves the viewer unsettled.

But it wasn't all dark. Ten to 13-year-olds at Scalloway Junior High School in Shetland produced Trowie Fiddle, a stunning animated film based on the Shetland Trow legends, in which the trolls (trows) kidnap a girl so that she will play the fiddle for them. Seann's Story, by five and six-year-olds at Ravenswood Primary School in Newcastle upon Tyne, was the animated tale of a frog who can't get anything right. Thirteen-year-olds from Ratcliffe College Film Club in Leicester produced The Shine, a comedy about how a misheard word leads to hysterics about a new "designer drug" and eventual closure of a school.

While this year's festival has come and gone, you can glimpse some of the entries as well as from the European Make a Video Competition on Channel 4 School's Film and Video Showcase, broadcast Thursday mornings at 11.20am until November 28.

Entries for next year's Co-operative Young Film-Makers Festival should be submitted by May 12 1997. Details: Co-operative Young Film-Makers, Freepost OL5573, Sandbrook Park, Sandbrook Way, Rochdale, Lancashire OL11 1YD. Telephone 01796 891412.

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