I’m putting this up because I haven’t really seen anything online that accurately described what happened last night re the Occasional Cinema screening in Mina Road Park.
I went to Mina Road park last night, wanting to see the citizen journalist films about Stokes Croft, with some friends.
We arrived shortly before 7.30pm at the park. We’d passed one police van parked down a street on the way and there were several police around the park. There was also at least another two police vans, one down a side street and one on Mina Road. There were people in the park clearly waiting to see the film (as the sun had mostly gone), including families with small children.
I want to stress at this point, if you don’t know Bristol, St Werburghs is a really nice, somewhat hippy area. There’s a City Farm there, some self-built eco-houses next door, the Better Food Company, which is a sort of organic right-on supermarket, an active allotments groups…It’s a bit alternative, you could say it’s a little bit yoghurt weaving, but also very safe and villagey in feel. You see lots of prams about and they sell a lot of copies of The Guardian. I live about five minutes walk away.
It was obvious that there was no equipment set up and the film screening wasn’t happening. People were milling about, chatting to friends and waiting to see what would happen. We were told by someone involved in the anti-Tescos campaign that the police had confiscated the screen, but I did not hear this from the Occasional Cinema organisers themselves, so I can’t absolutely confirm it.
But certainly, the police had said the event could not go ahead, citing worries about public order. There were maybe 70-100 people in the park (including, as I’ve mentioned, small children) and it’s St Werburghs. I just cannot imagine what you’d have to do to start a riot in St Werburghs. Steal someone’s best tofu recipe?
The idea that there would be violence seemed pretty ridiculous. It was hard not to feel this was a bit of a paranoid response, if not censorship.
Anyway, the organisers came up with an alternative location which was a private house. A couple of people set off, and everyone slowly drifted along behind them (packing up their blankets, chatting to new arrivals, you know how long it takes to get a group of people to leave a park).
The house was in Ashley Road allotments. Keep that in your mind. How much more Dad’s Army could something be than a police operation in some allotments? To get to the house you had to go down a path through the allotments. A police van and possibly a car had been following people up the street, but they couldn’t go down this path. So the first wave of people were at the house before the police could get near.
My housemate, who was with us, decided to go home at this point. It had all taken longer than he’d expected and would prob take a while to set up at the new location. He needed to go and pick his kids up from scouts.
Some of the friends I’d come with were still a bit behind us. By the time they got to the start of the path, the police were there turning people away and saying they couldn’t come down the path to attend the film showing. A film showing of a perfectly legal film, at a private house. This is where I really think it went ridiculous.
The organisers told us the police were saying that they would arrest people who tried to come to the location to attend the film showing. Arrest people? For trying to go to a house to watch a film?
Blocking the film showing in a public park, in a residential area is one thing – I think the police were wrong, but they could reasonably believe it might cause public disorder. But stopping people coming to watch a film at a private house? Did they think we were going to riot and smash up the guy’s house who had kindly volunteered his garden for the film showing? Maybe set fire to some waterbutts and coldframes? Build barricades out of marrows and runner beans? Is this some heartwarming British sitcom featuring Dawn French and Richard Briers?
My housemate, on his way home, texted to say that police were blocking the road through St Werburghs, at Mina Rd tunnel. They were stopping people from coming up from St Werburghs to where the film was going to be shown. The police told him it was an illegal rave. No one could possibly think that 60-70 people sitting quietly in someone’s garden, in some allotments, without any music playing was an illegal rave, but there you go. Thanks to the Criminal Justice Act, if something’s a rave, the police have powers they wouldn’t have normally.
Did I mention the police helicopter circling overhead?
Happily, the police perhaps didn’t know the area that well, because they hadn’t sealed off another path into the allotments, so my friends who’d been turned away at the end of the path just went round the other way and arrived a bit later. We all sat quietly chatting and waiting for it to get dark enough to use the projector.
Eventually, we got word that the police were removing the road blocks and the helicopter. We all cheered, and settled down to watch the films.
Some of the footage was great. Some of it was repetitive, or unclear. To be expected. The film shown at the end – hot off the presses, was aces and I recommend you watch it. Why did the Stokes Croft Riots happen? Local people, in their own words, describe what happened.
There were still lots of police around when we left and on the way home but as far as I saw they didn’t hassle anyone. They were just a slightly menacing, and entirely unnecessary, presence.