Anarchy on the Screen

The Chicago Anarchist Film Festival is in its thirteenth year, if you don’t count a pause or two since its start. This makes it one of the longest running anarchist institutions in the city. According to Rachel, one of the organizers of the event, who declined to give her last name, film is “the most educational tool for uniting the mainstream perception of anarchy to the ideal anarchy values we believe in.” This pedagogic purpose underscores the strength and longevity of the near-yearly gathering of anarchist activists and art.

This year’s edition was held in Meztli, a small gallery and cultural space in Pilsen. The theme of the weekend was Lucky 13 and the Black Cat, apt on multiple levels, as the black cat is a symbol of both fortune and the Industrial Workers of the World. Fittingly, I won a DVD documentary on the Internationale from a raffle ticket I bought just after walking through the door.

Yet there’s a sense of ambiguity that pervades the event and its supporters. The resistance movements supported by the members of the CAFF are a vague and inclusive set, their main similarity seemingly that each recognizes a problem and seeks to address it. Such problems run the gamut from the vast, as with global labor exploitation to the particular, as Mackle Garrison, a member of the Chicago-based Four Star Anarchist Organization, and other fellow anarchists rally against a local bank’s foreclosure efforts.

Jim Munroe’s “Ghosts With Shit Jobs,” a Chicago premiere, presents only fictional problems. Both Garrison and Rachel looked forward to his work, citing the ratio of fictional work to documentaries and propaganda films by anarchists. Posing as a Chinese television documentary from the middle to late 21st Century, Munroe’s speculative science fiction looks at six desperate Canadians and the dystopian sweat labor they have been forced to take on. One pair forages for spider silk from mutated laboratory arachnoids, and a woman earns money every time she mentions a product or a slogan. What the film lacks in cohesive, focused dystopian narrative, it makes up for in the sheer volume of its frighteningly ironical future consequences.

Munroe’s point is not so much that this world will happen, just as the festival’s point is not so much that these films will change the world. Instead, he looks to simply call attention to power dynamics and corruption while using as much volunteer labor and funding as he can. CAFF highlights what Garrison calls a very important yet overlooked facet of anarchist life: its culture. As it turns out, this culture is wide enough to include an epic and mazy sci-fi exploration of racialism and nationalism, as well as the documentary on communism I took home.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 4, 2013

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Industrial Workers of the World as the “International Workers of the World.”

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