LabourStart’s video of the year and the state of union videos

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LabourStart recently held it’s LabourStart Video of the Year competition, which aimed to get showcase the best union videos of the year.

Like the LabourStart photo of the year, the shortlisted videos included a few good videos, but really only served to highlight the parlous state of union film making globally.

The winning video, a direct copy of the well-known scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, was made in 2007 in Australia as a spoof on the hated WorkChoices laws.While this is a fine video for what it is, it is fairly old now (made in 2007), and effectively plagiarises Monty Python (so it is not an original idea). Furthermore, it is very long, and filled with crude swearing. This makes it less than ideal for unions to widely disseminate to their membership.

I’m writing this to mourn union videos, which are mostly awful.This is especially the case when compared to the rest of the non-profit sector.

There are some good union made videos. Unfortunately, they weren’t recognised by LabourStart (or the judging panel), or else the makers didn’t feel confident enough in LabourStart to submit them.

Compare the LabourStart videos of the year award to the non-profit video award.

They are all original, well-shot, short, personal, and moving. They tell a story that is intimately tied up with the narrative of the organisation they were made by.

There are some really fantastic union videos out there (like this one) – rivaling the ones that won the non-profit video awards. But they aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.

The LabourStart video competition could’ve been a really fantastic exhibition of the best the trade union movement has to offer. Instead it just rehashed some of the same-old same-old videos that have been circulating people’s inboxes recently.

UPDATE (22/04/10):

There’s an interesting article at LookBackLabor where the LabourStart video competition judges discuss what they were looking for in a union video, and some justification of their decision. I’m really not convinced that the winning video matched the criteria that many of the judges give as key elements to a good union video.

3 responses to “LabourStart’s video of the year and the state of union videos”

  1. @atosha Avatar

    I totally agree. I think it's also embarrassing for the union movement as a whole. This is what we show to the community in general as our best and it's not good enough. I'm not sure why their award didn't work whether they didn't get the enteries submitted or the judging process wasn't the best but if they plan to run it again they need to make some improvements. Was the difference a clear judging criteria?

  2. @lookbacklabor Avatar

    As one of the judges of the LabourStart Labour Video of the Year competition, I would like to offer a response to this post.

    Although I agree with Mr. White that any exercise in the selection of work for public exhibit or the awarding of merit is necessarily limited, I would argue that characterizing the state of union media production as "parlous" is undeserved.

    There are a number of key stakeholders within the labor and film community currently active in broadening the reach of union-made media production. While they may not have the social capital or capital-intensive business structure of a YouTube contest, they are by no means modest, often home-grown and staffed by dedicated individuals both within and outside of the labor movement, and international in reach (this includes the online exhibit made available by Mr. White's own Creative Union project). Anyone curious as to the scope of labor-specific media festivals, I would urge to visit the Labor Film Festival Database, sponsored by the DC Labor FilmFest and LabourStart:

    It may be tempting to assess the faults of provisional exhibition events, such as the LabourStart competition, and offer overreaching conclusions about the state of labor media production as being somehow inadequate. Yet to do so offers a sort of critical shorthand for a perspective that is both ahistoric and demonstrates a misunderstanding of the complex social environments from which these films and videos arise. This is, however, precisely why the LabourStart competition and other exhibition venues, whether it be at a membership meeting or posting a video to YouTube, play an important role in helping to redefine and breath life into the field.

    With this in mind, there really is no need here to track or make sense of the amount of moving-image material being produced by the labor movement, or to offer or suggest a rigid definition about what constitutes quality. What we should all support is any attempt to expand access to labor media, whether it be at a film festival, online or by supporting preservation and access efforts in labor archives. In doing so, we make the conversation about union media more inclusive and relevant not only for issues related to the labor community, but in considering this media as a legitimate mode of expressive inquiry.

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      Thanks for your detailed comment. I definitely appreciate you taking the time to respond.

      My basic point in this article is about the videos chosen by LabourStart for its video competition.

      As I said, many unions are doing great work, and have produced great videos – rivalling those by the non-profit sector. I certainly don't equate the LabourStart comp with the state of union videos – quite the reverse.

      I was very disappointed with LabourStart and the videos that were selected. In my view, LabourStart ignored (or missed) some of the recent, very excellent videos made by unions recently. Instead, it appears to me that LabourStart chose the "usual suspects" – and the winning video was a copy of a well-known scene from Life of Brian!

      I don't believe that the LabourStart competition did "redefine or breathe life into" union videos. In fact, I think it had the opposite effect – it highlighted pedestrian work rather than high quality work.

      This is a problem that LabourStart has with other mediums. The winners of the last few LabourStart photo of the year in my view have been rather obvious, not exemplary union photos.

      LabourStart may have been on the cutting edge of union online engagement, but it is now very, very out of date. A quick look at its website, and its attempt at social networking (Union Book) demonstrate this.

      I definitely support union media, videos, photos, and design. There is some fantastic examples from unions around the world, who are not only leading the labour movement, but are (in some cases) forging new ground for the non-profit/activism sector more generally. I don't see LabourStart (unfortunately) as having identified them, or having a strong role in promoting, encouraging or fostering this.