By Anthony Killick
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Secret City

This article is over 11 years, 1 months old
Directors Michael Chanan, Lee Salter, Release date: out now
Issue 379

Following its premier in the UK parliament, Secret City, a new feature length documentary about the City of London and the corporation that runs it, was screened to a sell-out crowd of 150 people in The Watershed, Bristol. As a postgraduate student and member of the production team I have, over the past year, gained insight into the relationship between the theory surrounding the film and the practice involved in making it.

The Corporation of London claims to be the world’s oldest continuously elected local body; with the Lord Mayor as part of its legislature, it lobbies on behalf of the City’s financial institutions.

One of the first problems we faced in making Secret City was the multifaceted nature of the story we wanted to tell – a complicated mix of history, geography, economics, politics and theology. The question became one of how a film could articulate this complexity and maintain a coherent narrative.

The main problem with this subject matter was a lack of awareness – the people who live and work within the City often have little knowledge of its history or how it functions. Through engagement with a public whose reactions range from surprised to completely puzzled, the film shows the disconnection between people and place brought about through the obfuscation of history. As the narration states, “It’s about power, and what people know about that power.”

Different interviews, each with seemingly different subject matter, build up into a narrative voice that sets itself against the “official’ voice of the corporation.

Through history, geography, economics and other such disciplines the film articulates the material crisis of capitalism in its institutional context. It shows how the City awarded votes to businesses based on the size of their workforce, its refusal to expand (which would have meant sharing some of its wealth with the poorer boroughs that surround it) and how the City even blackballed a representative elected on a reform platform.

Building such a narrative means the interviewees begin to speak to each other, as well as to the audience. In this way the film gradually mounts a collective argument against the City of London.

While this methodology may seem abstract, it is clearly materialised both in the form of Secret City and in the act of making it. Secret City is intended to constitute a form of resistance against the greed of finance capital. If, as Doreen Massey says in Secret City, “we are situated in a geography of relations, and all those relations are filled with power” then a multidisciplinary approach is essential to drawing as much power as possible from that geography.

The next screening of Secret City is on 11 April at The Arnolfini, Bristol. For full listings visit

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