Mustard is a documentary film project centring on the student activists and campus events of May 1968 and beyond at Wivenhoe Park. The fall-out following the visit of a government research scientist from Porton Down, who apparently needed rescuing from his own lecture by the police, has long been regarded as a moment in the history of the University of Essex that was both traumatic and, in many different ways, defining. Meanwhile, the story of how students and staff at the institution (in only its fourth year of existence at the time) went out on strike in protest at its Vice-Chancellor’s treatment of three individual demonstrators, declaring instead a ‘Free University’, was also for decades treated as taboo and written out of the official history of the University.
For the first time, Mustard weaves together a series of filmed life story interviews with participants in the events, archival documents from both the ‘official’ institution and the Free University, the perspectives of current students and staff, and contemporary media reports. The result is anything but a neat, coherent story about the protestors themselves, germ warfare, freedom of speech, the right and/or obligation to protest, the growing pains of an institution, and the struggles to define the structure and role of any university within the wider contexts of national and global student activism of 1968.
Mustard Podcast 3: The Background Readings E.P. covers the run-up to the events, taking the story up to the point just before Dr Inch arrives from Porton Down. The participants propose a wide variety of factors and forces in play, and the film invites viewers to form their own understandings and evaluations of the many possible explanations as to why, and how, this series of May ’68 events exploded, at this moment, and in this University.