public space design and research

Interview Mark Saunders

Interview Mark Saunders


The work of Spectacle, does not fall into the traditional documentary category, it is primarily concerned with developing participatory community media as a public amenity. The work outlined here was developed in the early 2000s and was primarily focused in neighbourhoods of urban change and renewal. Spectacle had developed a number of community media groups in the UK and Europe; Marsh Farm in Luton, Silwood Estate in London, St Joost in Brussels.

The central aim of Spectacles video projects is to train residents to film and edit video footage and through this capture the changing physical and human face of their neighbourhood. By recording their neighbourhood participants not only contribute to the history of their neighbourhood and community but also positively intervene in the regeneration discourse. Video workshops provide an activity based environment which have proven to help people to engage and work together. The core of the work focuses on the concept of community media as a public space. The workshops, training and screening provide a place for discourse, reflection and recording of the events going on in and around the neighbourhood. The presence of video cameras empowered the community in question and provides them with a platform to amplify their (often overlooked) concerns in the regeneration debate. The following is an interview with Mark Saunders director of Spectacle.

Could you provide a background to the work? 

Spectacle has been developing this kind of work from way back in the 80s with our media group Despite TV, Where urban renewal topics were quiet high up on our agenda, such as deregulation of the city and encroachment of the city into Tower Hamlets and the Docklands. I have been working with the Luton people for more than fifteen years it began with the documentary Exodus following the work of those at Marsh Farm the community media work evolved out of this. I started working in Brussels in 2000 because I got invited over there to screen some work at the NOVA cinema and started working together with Alex Claes.

The are all long term projects how were they funded? 

Part of the process of Spectacle working on these projects long term was attracting sources of funding to allow us to continue to do our work, this included a European Social Fund project and then APaNGO funding.  The demonstration projects for ApaNGO were  Silwood Estate, Marsh Farm and St Joost in Brussels. In Brussels we were initially getting funding from a small community based grant then we attracted larger cultural funds from Brussels then APaNGO became involved and we then made St. Joost part of our demonstration project. By attracting different types of funding we have managed to cross-subsidise our long term work and commitment to these communities.

How did you structure the community work? 

The workshop model creates a space for discussion and debate, its difficult to bring people together to talk about planning, but you might get them together to talk about documenting how their neighbourhood has changed. Or a similar group activity such as media training, people can become part of that and this will maybe bring people in that are interested in learning skills. So you start to create a different kind of knowledge base which can be really important in regeneration situations.

Was regeneration the primary motive for the work?

Originally we got involved in the Silwood Estate because they wanted us to film outreach for them about urban landscaping. So initially it was about how this estate is going to change and asking how do you want it to change? Our agenda was always to try and develop a community media group, that the community centre with media facilities could become an amenity for the community. In terms of participation you have a local synergy but the video productions also reached some an experts in certain areas that then got involved and offered their expertise to the community. So it’s also a type of outreach that does produce different kind of benefits for that local community. It brings a spotlight onto the local issues.

How did the production work in a group context?

Shooting might involve up to 30-40 people, then we would hold a number of group screenings so we would edit and have a collage of separate bits getting feedback during the screening. This opened up editorial input to large amounts of people, but in the end its the 3-4 dedicated people that would get the editing work done. I think there is a way that you can do post production that is also participatory an open and relatively flat, but because of the intensity of the work it tends to only really involve those that are enthusiastic about editing. So where it really mattered about editorial decisions it was quite open. In essence the films that are made up of a lot of little chapters with lots of different little individual contributions and ideas that have a certain kind of aesthetic. There are some films from the Brussels work that are more cohesive and are pulled together.

Was there a difference in cultural contexts? 

The major difference between the different places was that the starting position in Europe was that democracy necessarily means that there should be a range of opinions. To have a good healthy system you need all kinds of voices and opinions to be expressed. I think in the UK it has much more to do with it as a means of exerting power and it is about funding people that are going to say the things you want them to say and cutting funding from places where there are people saying things that you don’t want them to say. I was very struck by that difference it is a bit ingrained here that thats how it is that is the reality, if you place your head above the parapet here you will not get funding, in Brussels we continued to get funding.

For the videos produced by local communities, screenings become significant in terms of bringing the community together as people are interested in watching a video while they are reluctant to participate in a meeting about the same subject.