Polly Wright: Collective Effort: Engaging With the Legacy of Filmmaking Collectives in the UK


Thesis Advisor: Ghalya Saadawi 

July 2022


This thesis engages with the history and legacy of filmmaking collectives in the UK from the late 1960s to the early 1990s to investigate how their economic, social, and political context can inform programming in non-profit contemporary art organisations. Throughout, this thesis understands the model of a collective as an organisational structure that does not assume hierarchy when creating public engagement within contemporary art. This stands in opposition to those modelled on neoliberal, hierarchical frameworks. The archive of collective filmmaking is approached as a resource to help imagine future practice, while addressing political, economic and ideological changes that underpin cultural ones. The thesis examines current debates surrounding the conditions in which artists and creative practitioners produce contemporary art in the non-profit sector. This establishes a contemporary position from which to look back at filmmaking collectives in the UK. Next, I identify and illustrate three distinct decades of collective filmmaking practice: the collectives of the 1960s representing working-class struggles; the collectives of the 1970s taking part in the feminist fight for gender equality and the collectives of the 1980s producing films and theories about the representation of Black and Asian subjects in the media within the context of opposing ideologies of the right-wing Thatcherite government and the left-wing Greater London Council in power at the time. By identifying with the organisational practice of these filmmaking collectives, through material ranging from their original manifestos to recent interviews that reflect on their work, I investigate, via their resonances with the present, the possibilities and challenges for producing engaging programmes now.