Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 at Cinema Politica

Black Power Mix Tape
Angela Davis interviewed by Swedish Television. ( SVT)

Last week I went to another excellent screening at Cinema Politica’s home base at Concordia University, now only one of their 75 chapters on campuses across this continent and in Europe. I saw a terrific film, The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-75 which screened last year at Sundance and Hot Docs. And I had a different experience from all the other 600 people in the audience.

The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 is made with archives from Swedish Television’s reports from the United States from 1967 to 1975. At the time, Sweden was a very progressive country. The Social Democrats were in power, Olof Palme was prime minister. Sweden officially opposed the war in Vietnam and supported justice for the Palestinians. Swedish television’s reporting from the U.S. was focused on poverty, the movement against the war and the emergence of the Black Power movement – to such an extent that U.S. some U.S. media spokesmen denounced the coverage as ‘anti-american.’ The reporters investigated the Black Power movement, obtaining behind-the-scenes footage with larger-than-life characters like Elridge Cleaver and Angela Davis, as well as rare footage of internal activities in the movement.

For the fist three years that these stories were broadcast, I was living in Stockholm. I was active in the mobilisations against the Vietnam war and generally involved with the student movement. Seeing the footage and hearing the voices of the Swedish reporters the other night was like a time travel experience for me, rediscovering something I experienced 45 years ago. The names of the journalists wouldn’t mean anything to people outside Sweden, but to me they were household items.

The filmmaker, Hugo Göran Olsson, made a very interesting choice – which justifies the ‘mixtape’ part of the title. He asked some current-day hip hop artists and song writers and a few other cultural activists to comment on the footage, the Black Power experience and its relevance to black people and others in the U.S. today. You don’t see them, you only hear their voices. The choice of interviewees was not obvious – he could have asked university professors or journalists – but it adds a very interesting layer to the film, bringing it up to date in a socially critical way while letting the archives remain the main attraction. Excellent !

Thank you to Sally Rylett for helping with this blog.

The Yes Men bring the house down

This week I went to a sensational Cinema Politica screening at Concordia University here in Montreal.

Cinema Politica is now, according to programmer Ezra Winton, the biggest community- and campus-based documentary screening network in the world! And Concordia, its home base and launching pad, continues to be the scene of weekly screenings often attended by more than 500 people – quite an achievement!

This time, after several years of efforts, Winton and CP Director Svetla Turnin had succeeded in bringing the Yes-Men to Montreal. Do you know who they are? They are surely the world’s leading impostors of the serious-humorous kind. They have pulled off some incredible hoaxes, and always at the expense of governments and corporations who should have reasons to be ashamed of their doings.

The Yes-Men modus operandi is to create false websites which lead people to invite them to conferences as representatives of the ‘bad guys.’ Once there, they push the envelope, taking corporate and government strategies to absurd levels, announcing outrageous schemes. The most incredible thing about their stunts is that people usually take them seriously, even when they propose, for example, human remains as a new energy source or human waste as a protein source for the poor.

On behalf of Dow chemicals, they apologized for the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal and promised compensation for the victims. They got terrific coverage on BBC news around the globe, forcing DOW (the new owner of the UC assets) to strenuously deny that they had done something good! The Concordia crowd saw these feats in the film The Yes Men Fix the World, produced by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano themselves, as a follow-up to the 2003 film The Yes Men.

I found the film a little uneven but full of brilliant ideas. For example, some arch-conservative U.S. climate-change deniers and free-market apostles are shot against a blue screen and are asked what they would like to see as a background for themselves. They then take the interviewees’ suggestions to heart, in their own humorous fashion, and use the backdrops as an ironic backdrop to their comments. Talk about giving people the rope to hang themselves. And most of all, the footage of the Yes Men’s stunts is priceless.

The Yes Men

In the discussion afterward, Andy and Mike (actually Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos) explained that they are anti-capitalist, that they take advantage of opportunities to expose fraud and ill-doing, that they haven’t generally had problems with lawsuits, and that they encourage people everywhere to follow their example.

In response to the many activists who inevitably wanted to know if they had done something on their pet issue, they gave the sound advice: why don’t you do it yourselves!

Congrats to Cinema Politica for an exceptional last-screening-of-the-year!

Cinema Politica crowd at Concordia

With thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog. Photo credit: Thanh Pham