OK…. So, I’m not a neutral observer in this. I am a full member of Jewish Voice for Labour and on the team that organised the screening of the film WitchHunt at the Rio Cinema in Dalston on 10th February. Not to mention being the director of Jackie Walker’s wonderful theatre show, The Lynching, which has played over 50 performances up and down the country, as well as in Berlin, Prague, Derry and the US.
But that screening in Hackney was absolutely amazing. Not just because 400 people turned up at an invitationonly event. Or the fact we kept the venue secret so there wouldn’t be a repeat of the bomb scare that stopped a showing in Liverpool during Labour conference last year. Or that there were four other screenings of the film at the precise same time as the London one: in Manchester, Cambridge, Sheffield and Liverpool, all well attended, with no disruptions or bomb scares, not forgetting an online screening that thousands more saw.
Nor for the fact that, after the screening, there was a live-streamed and interactive Q and A with the film-maker Jon Pullman, Jackie Walker, whose story the film took as a case-study, Alexei Sayle, the comedian, actor and author, and academic Justin Schlosberg, with Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi chairing.
The Rio was buzzing. From start to finish. And since that time, requests to see the film haven’t stopped rolling in from Labour Party branches and constituencies up and down the country and from individuals who want to host their own screenings. The movie is going viral.
And why not? This is the film, and the story, they didn’t want you to see… as the strap-line has it; which unpacks the nexus between the New Labour bureaucracy and, sadly, too many members of the PLP, not to mention apologists for the human rights abuses of the Israeli government, and the media barons who would find a Corbyn/ McDonnell government absolutely anathema.
In its final cut the film tells, with great clarity and simplicity, a complex story, with a host of experts to unpick the narrative: Moshe Machover, himself expelled from Labour in 2017 for ‘antisemitism’ only to be re-admitted less than a month later after a furore and climb-down by the NCC; Justin Schlosberg, senior lecturer and media expert from Birkbeck University, Professor Lewis Gordon, black-Jewish expert from Connecticut University, Paul Keleman academic and author of The British Left and Zionism, Salma Karmi- Ayyoub, criminal barrister and external consultant for the Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq, as well as Leah Levane, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour and a Labour councillor in Hastings.
With this ammunition, the hundreds of people who attended the live showings – and the thousands more who will shortly be seeing the documentary – will have all the fire-power they need. And you could feel it in the room. The Rio, my local picture-house, had never been more attentive. And never as well informed.
So, what now? You want to know more? You want to organise a showing of your own? In your own branch or CLP? Your own union branch? In your own home, for friends, comrades and neighbours? It’s easy. Just email email@example.com and get in the queue. You won’t have long to wait! I’d also like to plug the theatre show, The Lynching, that gave rise to the film. Jon Pullman, the film’s director, saw a performance of The Lynching in 2017 and was so moved by the injustice of it all and online hate-speech directed at its author and performer Jackie Walker that he spent over a year following her round, making his film and editing it.
There would have been no WitchHunt without The Lynching. No Rio showing. No live-streaming of the whole amazing afternoon.
And now, The Lynching itself is taking its own steps to going theatrically viral. Jackie Walker, who up to recently had always performed the piece, stepped aside from her busy schedule and, in Liverpool in September, gave the role to the wonderful TV, stage and film actress Jo Martin, who garnered a standing ovation into the bargain. And now, at the end of February, a cast of three professional actresses will be performing a rehearsed reading of The Lynching in a beautiful theatre space in London, to an invited audience of activists and theatremakers, many of them black and Jewish.
From baby steps to giant steps, the theatre piece and the film are unstoppable - as is the truth of what they are saying. And I’m so proud to be associated with both.
Tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org