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.

Kim Longinotto and the Pink Saris

Pink Saris film by Kim Longinotto

Last week, at the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal, I had a chance to see the latest film by one of the world’s best documentarians, Kim Longinotto. In Pink Saris, she tells the story of the ‘Pink Gang’ of women in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states. Led by a tough lady named Sampat Dal Devi, these “untouchables” (lowest caste) women take on violent or abusive husbands and corrupt officials.

The film has all the characteristics of a Longinotto documentary: it has amazing access to intimate situations, it deals with the rights of women, it’s tough and uncompromising, and doesn’t stay away from contradictions and difficulties. In this case, the main character is admirable, but Longinotto doesn’t idealize her, and at one point the film clearly shows her making a selfish and morally questionable choice which has serious consequences for a young woman who she has taken under her wing. The film is beautifully shot by the director herself.

Kim Longinotto @ Hot Docs
Photo: Paul Galipeau

I went to hear Longinotto speak at a workshop at Hot Docs last spring. I was very impressed by her modest and unassuming presentation. What struck me the most was her combination of caring for her subjects but her incredible tough-mindedness. She is so close to the characters that they will, it seems, let her film just about anything, no matter how hard it is.

And she does – even when the scenes are almost unbearable to watch, as in a famous scene from a female genital mutilation in Africa. Life is often unbelievably hard for women in ‘Third world’ countries, and Longinotto is determined to show it – but always from the perspective of people who are working to change the situation. It’s an attitude which seems to be rooted in her own harsh childhood experience as a homeless orphan, and her feeling that filmmaking “saved her life.”

Here is a list of some of Longinotto’s films:

Rough Aunties (2008)

Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go (2007)

Sisters in Law (2005)

The Day I Will Never Forget (2002)

Runaway (2001)

Gaea Girls (2000)

Divorce Iranian Style (1998)

Shinjuku Boys (1995)

Dream Girls (1994)

The Good Wife of Tokyo (1992)

Eat the Kimono (1989)

Underage (1982)

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for her help with this blog.

Seen at Hot Docs

Monica and David_2
Monica and David

I was at Hot Docs in Toronto, now one of the world’s leading documentary festivals, all of last week. I wasn’t able to see some of the films I really wanted to see because of meetings. But here are a few screening notes.

The most surprising film I saw was Feathered Cocaine, an Icelandic film which starts out as a film about falconeering and falcon smuggling, then veers off into the drug trade, and finally ends up very convincingly proving that the U.S. authorities never really tried to catch their declared Enemy # 1, Ousama Bin Laden !

While the Americans claimed to be searching for him in Waziristan, he spent several months every year in meetings with his financiers in hunting camps in the Iranian desert, with his five falcons which were all equipped with radio emitters.

The U.S. authorities, including the CIA and the Pentagon, showed no interest in first-hand information about these facts. The story is no joke, it’s journalistically sound, backed up with solid evidence. Chapeau !

Another very impressive film: Secrets of the Tribe, a shocking story of how several generations of anthropologists have used unequal power relationships to take advantage of the Yamomami people of the Venezuelan rain forests. Medical experiments without informed consent, pedophilia, the building on scientific reputations and super-egos on the backs of unsuspecting aboriginals, it’s a real horror story.

As a reader of the world’s best newspaper, the Guardian Weekly, I was well aware of this story already. But the film tells it well and should be a must-see for the academic world.

But the most moving film I saw was Monica and David, a film about two young people with Downs syndrome who get married. As in any case where the social conventions are stripped away and you are confronted with strong emotions, this is captivating.

But in this case, the emotion is love, and the two young people show enormous courage in confronting their challenges -as do their mothers and other members of the family. I was very impressed by the quality of shooting, sound recording and editing in this first film by director Alexandra Codina. Great work !

Director Alexandra Codina

I am leaving for a future post John Walker’s excellent film A Drummer’s Dream.

Thanks to Tobi Elliott for help with this post.