Positive Force: More Than A Witness reviewed on Scanner Zine

Positive Force: More Than a Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action

Scanner Zine
November 10th, 2015

POSITIVE FORCE: MORE THAN A WITNESS {PM Press} Subtitled ‘30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, this 69 minute documentary recounts the story of Washington DC’s branch of the Positive Force collective. Directed by Robin Bell, it expertly mixes vintage footage amidst the story of the activist collective (which exists to aid, from a DIY Punk perspective, issues such as sexism, homophobia, homelessness, globalization and more), this is both an informative and inspiring documentary.

Opening with footage from an infamous homeless march to City Hall, DC in 1993, the documentary constantly fuses sharp, flashing graphics of flyers and pictures into the narrative. It’s a stunning way to start matters and soon we see Penny Rimbaud of CRASS being interviewed. The spectre of CRASS, in terms of politics and ethics, is certainly evident in the early days of the collective. The very ideal of Punk and what Positive Force aims to be is encapsulated in a couple of quotes recounted by one of the Collective’s most vocal founders, Mark Anderson. These are Karl Marx’s “Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing,” and Mikhail Bakunin’s “The destructive urge is also a creative urge.”

From there, the film looks at the Revolution Summer movement, the Positive Force House, FBI harassment and the importance of FUGAZI to the continued progression of the collective. What is also apparent is the importance of Anderson throughout the collective’s early stages. It’s stated there were debates about the two polarising polemics of those in the collective – the organise side and the ‘fuck-shit-up’ train of thought. It seems both existed in relative harmony, but Anderson managed to galvanise those ideals into one movement.

Riot Grrrl is discussed in depth and when Punk hit the mainstream the ethical contradictions between corporate Punk and the DIY ethos becomes prevalent. Matters reached a crux in 2005 when some of the founding Anarcho-influenced Punks left and moved to a bookshop, while those remaining with the collective allied itself with ‘We Are Family’ – a group of primarily senior citizens working toward ensuing DC’s elderly are cared for.

Bell’s direction has crammed a lot into the film and his mix of live performances (from the likes of FUGAZI, 7 SECONDS, RITES OF SPRING, SCREAM, SOULSIDE, BIKINI KILL, ANTI-FLAG) and interviews with the Collective and more notable names (Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Danbert Nobacon, Ted Leo, Jeff Nelson) works incredibly well. Its narrative is concise and focused yet allows for a range of views from those directly involved, and often those views are contradictory from a personal perspective.

Besides the main film, there is a bounty of extras too. First up is another PF documentary but from 1991. It acts more like a prequel to the main film and lacks its continuity but it does accentuate the residents of the PF house at the time and includes an electrifying, intense FUGAZI performance. Then there is a documentary about the We Are Family group, followed by an outtake from the main film that discusses the debatable importance of Punk Voter that includes some footage of a riot that resulted from an ANTI FLAG gig. The final extra is some live performances from the likes of CHUMBAWAMBA, 7 SECONDS, FUGAZI, BEEFEATER and more.

The main documentary alone should inspire anyone who believes in the positivity of Punk and its power of personal and political change. For those who do not believe in that positivity – watch and be educated. Add on all those extras and you have a DVD that can be viewed many times with each viewing spawning new detail and successive inspiration.

Back to Robin Bell’s Artist Page