INTIFADA! vol.1 issue.2 profiling a cinematic uprising WEBSITE: SVLLYwood.com TWITTER: @SVLLYwood INSTAGRAM: @SVLLYwoodMAG TUMBLR: @SVLLYwoodMAG FACEBOOK: SVLLYwoodMAGAZINE
Table of Contents
I. Editor’s Note by Rooney Elmi
II. Manifesting Political Cinema by Khaled Alsenan [page 4] III. Call to Arms! Interview with Generation Revolution filmmakers [page 8] IV. Radical Legacy of the Zapatista’s Media Strategy by Rory Padgett [page 12] V. Exploring Haile Gerima’s ‘Child of Resistance’ and the Black Radical Tradition by Kariima Ali [page 18] VI. Contextualizing Uprising: Interview with the mastermind behind ‘Filming Revolution’ [page 24]
EDITOR'S NOTE By: Rooney Elmi
“There is no revolutionary art as yet. There are the elements of this art, there are hints and attempts at it, and, what is most important, there is the revolutionary man, who is forming the new generation in his own image and who is more and more in need of this art. How long will it take for such art to reveal itself clearly?” Leon Trotsky, Communist Policy Toward Art (1923) In times of political crisis it’s vital to remember that art is the soul of the revolution. SVLLY(wood)’s blueprint is to create a subversive current in cinema: the way we think, consume, interact, and create all forms of visual media. That idealism for a renaissance in a cinematic understanding informs every facet of our politico which is rooted in the destruction of global capitalism and reimagining a society where workers actively own and control the wealth their labor generates. In comprehending this revolution through the realm of film and culture, we must be aware that the role of the artist and the critic is to be connected to the struggle. That is the only way to liberate art from the ruling class. Intifada ( )اis the Arabic word for ‘shivering’ more commonly known in English as, ‘uprising’. Volume.1 Issue.2: INTIFADA, seeks to recall the international heritage and scholarship of leftist cinema, as well as envision the future of a cinematic uprising through a series of essays and two spotlight interviews with active filmmakers and academics who contextualize what that uprising might look like. I also encourage readers to imagine what a cinematic uprising looks like to them and ask yourself what are you doing to guarantee its success? I’d like to dedicate this issue to our comrades around the world who have created or joined thousands of groups that promote a rebellious film landscape, specifically The Radical Film Network, an “international network of organizations involved in politically-engaged and/or aesthetically innovative film culture”. If you’re interested in learning more, visit their website and see what’s happening in your neck of the woods. INTIFADA is also dedicated to our dear readers, who are determined to fight for our collective liberation in the face of an ever encroaching global fascist reality. To that I say ONWARDS! In trust and solidarity, Francis Ford Coppola’s little fat girl in Ohio 02/25/2017
Manifesting Political Cinema by Khaled Alsenan A specter is haunting the global: the specter of fascism, and all the powers of global dominance have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise it. The once imponderable reality of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen ruling the Western world has manifested itself and artists across disciplines have increasingly withdrawn from apolitical notions of art making to engage in the moral duty of political dissent. Cinema, like all forms of art, possesses a long history of political production. But what does it mean for cinema to be political? Russian constructivism is the earliest and most notable era of political argumentation in the short history of cinema. Eschewing individual narratives to depict class struggle, socialist realism attempted to counter the ideological function of bourgeois American and European cinema. Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925) and Grigori Aleksandrov’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928, co-directed with Eisenstein) are among the most cited triumphs of revolutionary Soviet cinema. But even these auteurs were conflicted by socialist realism’s strict adherence to Communist subjectivity. Eisenstein’s films were censored multiple times after his return from the United States in 1930 for relying too heavily on formal techniques. In Bezhin Meadow (1937), Eisenstein shifted his focus to religious symbolism and abandoned his signature montage of the masses in order to focus on a single protagonist. Joseph Stalin, an admirer of the filmmaker, personally ordered the termination of the film’s production.
One might be tempted to envision a post-colonial classic such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) as political cinema par excellence. Its depiction of armed resistance and self-determination against colonial oppression enables an idealized form of political progress. While such resistance is indispensable to the material construction of revolutions, it cannot monopolize the means of political action within the cinematic realm. It is the duty of political cinema to disrupt the romantic image of revolution by presenting its internal chaos and failures alongside its triumphs. Extracting pure effect out of revolution while neglecting its idiosyncrasies amounts to a revisionism that borders on propagandistic. Political cinema, therefore, must also encompass a broad range of films that offer narrative alternatives to films depicting mass uprisings and violent revolution in the linear form. Ambiguous storytelling and non-linear narratives, for example, are not just useful strategies for evading state censorship. Christian Gazi’s A Hundred Faces for a Single Day (1972) departs from Arab cinema’s reliance on realism to wage an experimental polemic against what he viewed as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s inadequacy. Comedy, too, has a place in political cinema, as seen in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975), a black comedy about the bureaucracy of the German Communist Party and its clash with anarchists. Not to be misled by the hush of his films, Pedro Costa brings individuals on the periphery of social life into the core of politics by the simple means of visual representation. In a system that silences people to maintain its violence against them, quiet cinema is necessarily political. A cinema that puts into question the efficacy of traditional revolutionary aesthetics and challenges the popular conception of revolution is able to broaden the conditions of possibility that constitute the political subject.
Octavio Getino in a interview about Third Cinema in 1982 4
What distinguishes the mid-century avant-garde filmmakers from their predecessors is their attention to cinema as an epistemological struggle. British film critic Peter Sainsbury defines epistemological cinema as “self-reflexive films that reference nothing but themselves…so the films are about the constituents of cinema, its history and its traditional forms, its use of spatial and temporal relationships and its processes of recording and transcription.” These films existed outside the dichotomy that hitherto encompassed cinema: experimental formalism as an end goal and linear narrativization as a means of political posturing. Far from being dichotomous, modernist cinema affirmed that the aesthetic is embedded in the political project. Inheriting a body of cultural criticism from Marxist theorists, semioticians, and psychoanalysts, the modernist avant-garde was wary of the ideological function of cinema and set out to use its elements against itself. Notably, the leftists of the French New Wave, mobilized by the events of May 1968, produced an oeuvre simultaneously formalist and political. Jean-Luc Godard’s use of metanarrative in the opening sequence of Tout Va Bien (1972) serves as an indictment on the process of filmmaking in a capitalist economy. *** Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gentino, two key figures in the New Latin American Cinema movement, describe revolutionary cinema as that which “does not illustrate, document, or establish a situation passively; it attempts instead to intervene in that situation as a way of providing impetus towards its correction.” It might be more beneficial to consider whether or not pedagogy even has an appropriate role in cinema. Can filmmakers elucidate in 120 minutes or less what writers, educators, activists, thinkers spend years laboring over? Probably not, but providing the means for an attainment of greater knowledge upon which future action may be grounded is practical. The ingenuity of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako (2006) lies in the sense that the film transcends a pedagogical function despite being so forthright about global capitalism and neocolonialism. The sequences of dignified social life (ie: survival) interspersed throughout the fervent drama of the film’s mock trial, coupled with an unresolved ending, abstain from facile depictions of good vs. evil/victim vs. oppressor along with the mystified catharsis of watching the former vanquish the latter. Sissako’s film moves its viewers because of the fullness of its creative capacities, not because of the facts stated about the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
The efficacy of political cinema cannot be quantified by its proximity to concrete, political action – that is to say, the ‘best’ of political cinema is not that which will move its audience, made newly aware of the intolerable conditions of the world, to abandon the movie theater en masse in favor of riots in the streets. Linear mappings of causality between art and material tremors in the social-political sphere cannot sustain the former’s multiplicity of form and subjectivity. What new channels of thought can emerge from rethinking political cinema less as the practice of political consciousness than a domain for the contemplation of complex, indeterminate ideas that surround the political subject? Reimagining representation, forming a new language to express a world not yet realized is paramount to cinema as a ‘post-reality’ medium. Cinema is to material representation what poetry is to language: a transcendence of limitations, a flood to break its dams. If Wittgenstein (dubiously) claimed that, “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”, it should be contended then that what we cannot see we must film. Political cinema today oscillates between two poles: on one hand that which advocates for didacticism as its essential feature, and on the other the new sensibility of modernist cinema that problematized the desire for knowledge and disrupted traditional structures of storytelling. How does political cinema navigate the ethics of socialpolitical representation without abandoning the aesthetic and thematic elements of modernism? Political cinema must be considered as a mutable medium that is constantly addressing the unique temporal and spatial circumstances in which it is made. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016) could not have been made had neoliberal austerity not reigned over Europe for the last decade. Political cinema would serve little should it embody an ahistorical brand of cinema that is easily distinguishable upon a set of signifiers. Political cinema as a discourse cannot be attributed to any one film or auteur or influential essay written about a film. It is the sum total of a cache of films, directly or indirectly in dialogue with each other, that constitutes the epistemology of what we today call ‘political cinema.’ A cinema that bypasses multiplicities to offer up closed hermeneutics – in other words, to provide us what it thinks we want to see rather than the capacity to stand back and think – is, to a large extent, useless. Works Cited Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, "Towards a Third Cinema", TwentyFive Years of the New Latin American Cinema (1983). Peter Sainsbury, "Editorial", Afterimage Vol.4 (Spring 1974). ABOUT THE WRITER: Khaled Alsenan is the Sontag of the 90's.
Call to Arms! Interview with Generation Revolution filmmakers
After viewing Raoul Peck’s Oscar nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, a friend and I debated the necessity of archiving images of brutality inflicted upon black bodies. This conversation then spiraled into a discussion on the democratized visual origins of Black Lives Matter, which can be seen as the first major political movement that constantly reenergizes itself on violent imagery. Despite the lackluster amount of visual media geared toward black narratives, there’s an even smaller presence of visual media centered around the unwavering position of black liberation freedom fighters. Generation Revolution is a rare exception. The feature-length film is a contemporary, unapologetic document of grassroots political organizing by a new generation of black and brown activists in London, all striving to change the political and social landscape of the United Kingdom. As first time directors, Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless chose to profile a raw subject matter that would make even the most seasoned veterans hesitate. Yet, by choosing to direct their gaze at D.I.Y organizers, the energy of the documentary is successful in maintaining its contagious, rebellious vibe. At the recent Sundance Film Festival, the documentary Whose Streets enjoyed critical acclaim for continuing the legacy of documenting Black Lives Matter “for the people, by the people,” much like Generation Revolution. Perhaps we’re ushering in a new age of documentary filmmaking that redirects the predatory gaze by seizing the means of production and empowering voices of the marginalized by fellow marginalized creatives. SVLLY(wood) is delighted to interview Generation Revolution’s codirectors, Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless, as part of our two-part ‘Contextualizing Uprising’ feature in issue.2: INTIFADA!
This interview contains minor spoilers.
SVLLY(wood): To start, how did you two meet and decide to make a film together? Quarless: We were introduced by a mutual friend and quickly realized we had similar ambitions and political frameworks, so I thought it would be great if we worked on something together. Generation Revolution was originally a short film, which was going to be used as a tool to discuss what was happening in the U.K, dissecting race and this new generation of activists. The project morphed out of that and into a feature length film. SVLLY(wood): You’re both politically engaged on a grassroots level — do you think it’s important for filmmakers who engage with political cinema to be activists themselves? Younis: I think having activist connections and being involved with grassroots activism was the first pull for us [to make this film]. If you’re going try to tell these stories, you’re going to have to have some kind of connection to understand the themes and the people. So, if you’re interested in creating political cinema, you should seriously involve yourself with the world of your subject matter. You can see that with this film, it doesn’t have a preying lens; rather, it views the subject from within. It’s important to note we weren’t a part of the political organizations in this documentary, which allowed us to be totally subjective. SVLLY(wood): Although the film was developed over the span of two years, it broke off from profiling just one organization to include three: The London Black Revolutionaries, R Movement, and the Black Dissidents. Any other major hiccups that happened during filming or in post? Quarless: Perhaps the biggest ‘hiccup,’ without spoiling the film too much, was the organizational breakdown within the groups we were filming. We made this documentary to inspire young people — specifically young people of color — to think about the ways they can be apart of activism in their communities. So, some of the massive interpersonal issues that were bubbling within these political organizations were nerve-wracking, because we felt that they could detract from Generation Revolution’s intended message. That obstacle really transformed itself into a good thing, however. As we began to show the film to different people and different places, these honest depictions of organizational friction galvanized people who’ve been involved in group political organizing, because that sort of thing happens all the time. It would be remiss of us as documentary filmmakers to sugar coat what really happened, especially since it proved to be such a universal commonality.
VLLY(wood): There were many guerilla style shots; you had to have run into some other trouble! Younis: Yeah well, Cassie was actually arrested as we were filming! Which was a hell of a way to set the scene! Quarless: Our equipment was also destroyed. As I was being chased by the police with batons on-hand, I accidently dropped one of the most expensive camera lenses that a friend let us borrow. We definitely had all of the complications that you can imagine, but we also took a lot precautions by encrypting hard drives, making sure to keep footage saved in multiple places, and hiring lawyers. SVLLY(wood): Generation Revolution is successful at focusing on the London Black Lives Matter scene; do you think that will be a hindrance or strength as you embark on the U.S tour of the doc? Quarless: I think it’s a strength for us. We see it as taking this international dialogue to the United States, and to places that we don’t necessarily talk too much about Europe, Brazil, Angola, etc. Generation Revolution doesn’t claim to speak for the whole movement, but instead speaks for the movement in the U.K. We’re trying to share the experiences of black and brown people, as well as showcase the resistance that exists here, and make people think about themselves as part of an international movement. Secondly, something we’ve noticed doing screenings is that this film inspires people to document and make their own films about the great work that’s being done in their own backyards. SVLLY(wood): Any future film related projects lined up? Quarless: Yes! We’re currently developing another project that probably won’t be out for another couple of years. Other than that, we can’t say much more about it. We see film as a powerful political tool, so the next film will embody a similar political potency [to Generation.] But again, can’t divulge too much about it! SVLLY(wood): Keeping up with the theme of this issue: how do you envision a cinematic uprising? Younis: My vision is to have the audience go straight from the cinema to the streets! Even while making this film, we asked, “How do we translate witnessing other young people participating in direct action to even more direct action?” We’ve held workshops and discussions, and a lot of people are really excited. We’ve heard, “I’m inspired to create my own movement” as a reaction to watching the film, which is really exciting, but as filmmakers, it doesn’t stop here. Cinema is a really powerful medium to showcase our message, but our message doesn’t solely live inside the film. We’re very much out on the streets and behind the camera, and you have to combine the two to see real change. Quarless: I agree with that completely! After a successful U.K run, Generation Revolution will be starting its U.S debut tour in February 2017. Check out the official website, genrevfilm.com, for information on city stops and dates! We encourage you to support micro-budget filmmaking and its creators by scheduling a screening of the documentary at your college campus or local art house cinema.
Radical Legacy of the Zapatista’s Media Strategy by: Rory Padgett “We are united by the imagination, by creativity, by tomorrow” - Subcomandante Galeano “Flowers, Like Hope, Are Harvested”
In the early 1990s, indigenous Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico known as the Zapatistas, combined their traditional, horizontal method of governance with emerging digital and internet technologies to organize for their independence against the encroaching tide of Neoliberal Globalization. This legacy has inspired a diverse array of movements from the anti-WTO pr ests to Black Lives Matter. Below is a history of the Zapatistas and lessons that can be gleaned by activists today working against the rise of global fascism. 11
I Just shy of 10 years a er their formation and on the dawn of the North American Free Trade Agreement, on 1 January 1994 el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (eng. The Zapatista Army for National Liberation, or EZLN) emerged from the Lacandon jungle to take over six cities and many ranches in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The 500 year struggle for indigenous self-determination continued.1 II A few hours into the new year, news about the takeover reached a global, internet audience. Two days later, Subcomandante Galeano, formerly known as Marcos, sent out the ﬁrst communique of the EZLN, “The First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle.” It was the email read around the world.2 III On 5 January 1994, EZLN communiques recounting ﬁrst hand experiences of the Mexican Army bombing the indigenous rebels are sent out. These stories resounded so loudly across the silent mainstream Mexican and international news media landscape that activists and sympathizers around the world create an online network of email blasts, listservs, & organizing forums in support of the Zapatistas. IV This network puts international pressure on President Zedillo to stop the military raids on Zapatista strongholds. Zedillo neg iates a peace treaty with the Zapatistas. A cease ﬁre g by e-guerilla tacti . The ﬁrst “net war” began and words become weapons. V 13 January 1995, The “Chase report” leaks to Counterpunch. From there, it is endlessly reproduced and disseminated on the internet. Riordan Roett, a consultant for Chase Manhattan Bank, wr e in the report that, “The [Mexican] government will have to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and security policy.” Roett is swi ly ﬁred. No military action is taken against the Zapatistas. VI In his video address to the “Free the Media” Teach-In in 1997, Galeano calls for independent media to “tell the history of social struggle in the world.” He proposes that this can be accomplished by creating an international network of information sharing “to resist the power of the lie that sells us this war we call Word War IV.3” VII His media proposed network e ends past social movements and into the fabric of our daily lives. In August 1996, Galeano declared that the Zapatistas will “make [...]an intercontinental network of resistance against neoliberalism [...] of resistance for humanity.” Galeano came to the Lacandon jungle in 1984 with the urban revolutionary group, Forces for National Liberation, which sought to be a vanguard party to lead the indigenous people in a socialist overthrow of the Mexican government. Until they adopted indigenous values, the FLN was met with suspicion. Primarily, the urban revolutionaries had to abandon their hierarchical structure and organize with the indigenous groups horizontally. This collective, assembly-based decision making nctions much like an internet chat forum.
VIII Oﬄine and on the ground, villages would debate an issue in their native language and bring their consensus to the central committee to be debated in Spanish. To reach a consensus in these encuentros could take many months, even years. This “cross-cultural dialogical praxis was the EZLN’s most power l strategy of resistance, uniﬁcation, and survival.4” This has its echoes online as the communiques are translated into various languages and conversations on chat forums discuss how best to aid the EZLN and Zapatista. IX In 1995 Alexandra Halkin visited Chiapas while ﬁlming a documentary for a US based NGO. The Zapatistas expressed interest in using video technology. Over the course of two years, Alexandra, Paco Vázquez (a Nahua youth), Fabio Meltis (an indigenous youth organizer), Jose Manuel Pintado (Mexico City based video producer), and hers nded and organized a video workshop for the Zapatistas. This would later develop into the Chiapas Media Project/Promedios. Much like the Zapatista organizational structure, CMP is ran horizontally. Mexican CMP personnel and indigenous media-makers from Oaxaca led the seminars in the early years. CMP setup regional media centers for production, post-production, and internet needs. The Zapatistas made videos for internal use and communication (in Mayan languages) and for e ernal audiences. X A er the 1994 takeover, the EZLN painted slogans b h in English and Spanish on the buildings of San Cristóbal. From the outset, the EZLN knew it could garner international attention. The Zapatistas were keenly aware of the power of symbols. The black balaclava masks is perhaps the most identiﬁable symbol of the EZLN. The anonymity it afforded was in part to hide the identities of the spokespeople, like Marcos, from gaining celebrity or cult personality. But, importantly also, the Zapatistas see all oppressed people as Zapatista. The anonymity allowed for oppressed people around the world to identify with the Zapatistas. Even Galeano’s title, subcomandante, is a symbolic reminder that he is n the leader. XI Lesson 1: In this era of global fascism and alternative facts, independent voices in media are desperately needed. With internet technology the EZLN and Zapatista people were able to communicate their needs, fears, hopes, and love directly to supporters. They could bypass n only government censors but ﬁltration through mainstream media. In multiple cases such communiqués saved lives. We need to investigate the statements of our political leaders, even if their ideas align with our own. We must vigilantly listen to those who are swept aside by our political systems and raise their voices when the corporate media re ses. We must aid them on their own terms. XII Lesson 2: The Zapatistas have generally been open to include outsiders in efforts of solidarity. Internally, the Zapatistas comprise of various Mayan tribes (Tzeltal, Tojolabal). Their openness allowed for the Chiapas Media Project and the various international websites that spread information and donated to the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas have expressed solidarity with indigenous peoples around the world including Palestine and Australia. The Zapatistas supported the release of American political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, LGBT-identiﬁed people, workers, and all peoples oppressed by global capital. The Zapatismo philosophy “simply states the question and stipulates that the response is plural, that the response in inclusive.5” In a time when governments are dividing people and building walls, we must welcome our re gee and immigrant compañeros who may be ﬂeeing to a country which has destabilized their homeland. 13
XIII Lesson 3: The Zapatistas utilized a multiplicity of media technologies to produce and distribute their message: emails, videos, listservs, fax machines, ﬂyers — all to combat the mainstream news avenues selling the Zapatista’s destruction on the airwaves. All outlets, all technology must be employed to to stand against the tide of corporate controlled information XIV Lesson 4: The EZLN was a hierarchical structured guerilla army until they adopted indigenous councils. The early Zapatista councils and civic centers, called Aguascalientes, were replaced in 2003 because the distribution of resources and inﬂuence was n equal. These new Good Government Juntas were created to rectify these inequalities.6 Moving forward in our political movements, we need to remember to be self critical and creative in addressing the weaknesses of our organizations. XV Galeano called for an intercontinental network of resistance to neoliberalism. In this era of rising global fascism, we must re-invite the world to unite to smash reactionaries at every chance. Consistently. Without fail. We, the oppressed people of the world, are the only ones who can end the neoliberal nightmare. We must band together and stand tall!
Democracy! Liberty! Juﬆice!
1. “The First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle” Subcomandante Galeano. Our Word Is Our Weapon 2. “Zapatistas Online: The Email Read Round the World” DeeDee Halleck. Handheld Visions: The Impossible Possibilities of Community Media 3. In “The Fourth World War Has Begun” Galeano refers to the Cold War as WWIII. The defines WWIV as the international fight against global neoliberal capitalism. 4. “Radical Internet Use” Tamara Villarreal Ford & Genéve Gil. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements.
5. “Zapatismo” Subcomandante Galeano quoted in the Afterword by Ann Carrigan. Our Word Is Our Weapon 6. “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle” schoolsforchiapas.org 7. Photos from the Chiapas Media Project Website
ABOUT THE WRITER: Rory Padgett is a second year MFA Film Candidate at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University. He has written previously about the L.A. Rebellion. He is set to release a short film, “Orchid Boys” with Julie Dash as Executive Producer later this year. Check him out: Twitter: @Rem_Blues Instagram: @remblues
Exploring Haile Gerima’s ‘Child of Resistance’ and the Black Radical Tradition by: Kariima Ali
“My people and me, Black men and women, prisoners of a long fight. I look at history: constant war. Since the day I was snatched, abducted from my mother’s land, I’ve been prisoner of war. Shit! Who want to understand me?” - Unnamed Prisoner, Child of Resistance. “How do we explain a white political cinema genuinely anxious about government corruption, the integrity of the press, a woman’s right to choose, the plight of turtles and whales, or the status of the public square, and a black political cinema calling for the end of the world.”
– F. B. Wilderson III, Red, White and Black.
The post-civil rights era of the 1970’s, in the midst of the aftermath of the Los Angeles Watts riots saw the collective imaginations of a group of black filmmakers set out to transform the landscape of cinema. This group known today as the L.A Rebellion filmmakers is loosely defined as a group of UCLA students who created radical films of Black liberation over the course of a three decade span. Among them were filmmakers such as Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, Haile Gerima, Jamaa Fanaka, Barbara McCullough, Larry Clark, Ben Caldwell, and later Alile Sharon Larkin, Melvonna Ballenger, O. Funmilayo Makarah, Zeinabu irene Davis, Carroll Parrott Blue and Julie Dash. The connective strand that shaped all members of the Rebellion, each distinct in their approach to storytelling, was a specific notion of the meaning of ‘cinema’ itself that refused to rest on preexisting structures of narrative and filmmaking. Thus the movement and films that followed became characterized by their self-conscious intent to actively formulate a distinctly Black cinema. In the past decade the L.A. Rebellion movement has been celebrated by the UCLA Film & Television Archive as part of its institution’s history, belying the reality that they were a group of filmmakers who thrived in spite of the institution. Part of the mythology and revisionism of the L.A. Rebellion has positioned the collective as a group of industry neglected Black people who couldn’t get work or recognition within Hollywood, instead of the culturally, politically and cinematically anti-Hollywood filmmakers that they were. Some of the more well-known films from the time, such as Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Gerima’s Bush Mama as well as Dash’s Daughters of the Dust were able to carve out their own cinematic blueprint. The cultural and historical achievements of the L.A School of Black Filmmakers were so significant precisely because of its members’ awareness of their position within the historical legacy of resistance. They were explicit in their connection to a community that had a continued desire for work that was for and spoke to them. Their close study of different national and transnational filmmaking and literary traditions emerging at the time was central to the formation of the visual poetics in their films. Their wide range of influences included the literature of Ngugi Wa’Thiongo’s Homecoming and Richard Wright’s American Hunger as well as Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, which became a central text. They were also heavily influenced by the Cuban cinema of Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Humberto Solas, Santiago Alvarez, among others, for their methods of translating revolution and art into cinema. These films provided a shift in the politics of cinematic thought. With these progenitors in mind, the films being made at UCLA became a proposal for thinking of aesthetics as a means of envisioning new ways of being in the world that were distinctly Black
Films like Gerima’s Bush Mama and Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts visualized an awareness of the political and cultural history of African Americans in Los Angeles, and in particular that of the Watts rebellion. Not to mention they articulated an alternative landscape to the L.A’s of Polanski and Hanson’s imaginations. These films became undeniably important historical precursors to the vision of L.A that would later be presented through the Hughes Brothers’ Boyz n the Hood and John singleton’s Menace II Society. Many of the films that came out of the L.A Rebellion movement translated through cinema just how much of the world and civil society is a non black space. Their efforts dismantled the foundations of white cinema’s primacy. All of their films were indebted to and could not have happened if not for the spirit of the Black liberation movements occurring at the time, and more widely to that of all Black people on the move politically. The black political imagination and its resistance becomes necessary to many of the movies that were being made, in the same way White apathy was necessary for white political cinema (for example, the work of Emile De Antonio, Haskell Wexler, etc.). The nature of the cinematic ecosystem and the economic power of white supremacist self interest led to unfortunately inevitable issues for the movement’s sustainability (in addition to the lack of resources that came with leaving school, including access to equipment and channels of distribution). If Audre Lorde was right, if the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, then white money was never going to fund a Black radical cinema.
Child of Resistance (1972) On October 13th, 1970 Angela Davis was recaptured in New York on charges of murder and kidnapping. That night as Haile Gerima slept he dreamt up the film that would become Child of Resistance, a 35 minute short film inspired by the trial of Angela Davis that would become a significant contribution to the L.A. Rebellion canon. Child of Resistance opens inside a prison cell where an unnamed black woman prisoner provides a voiceover monologue lamenting the state of the black radical tradition. As the scenes move from one instance of degradation to another, her stream of consciousness gets more and more urgent in projecting her cries for black liberation. Both within and without the frame, Gerima links the iconography of Davis symbolically and historically to that of George Jackson, the revolutionary prison abolitionist that Davis would famously be charged for plotting and arming a fatal attempt. The subconscious dialogue that narrates the movie could easily have been taken from the pages of Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, both his words and his sentiments are given life throughout the film. George Jackson’s literature was an important undercurrent for the possibilities of a ‘Black cinema,’ a fact not lost on Gerima who has championed his work more than any academic since. His juxtaposition of visual concepts throughout his writings are important cinematic ciphers in interrogating the grammars of black suffering. This is a poignant comparison to the outright suppression of the American prison system’s extreme violence that is profuse in mainstream Hollywood narratives. As places of normalized captivity and punishment, the prisons of Hollywood’s conception are sites of individual redemption and boundless hope, an obvious obfuscation of the exceedingly hopeless reality that the prison industrial complex is just a modern iteration of the plantation system. Jackson’s writing and Gerima’s script elucidate a history that accounts for the racist, capitalistic, and misogynistic practices that illuminate this shift from slave labor to the neo-slavery of the prison industrial complex. As the film progresses, the prisoner is led through a bar by a guard dressed in a hybrid pastiche of a colonial settler and a police chief. She moves in shackles amidst a crowd of black people leisurely drinking and chatting who are likewise chained to one another, though it is only the unnamed prisoner who seems fully aware of this fact. The image offers visual form to what Jackson referred to as the “‘flea market’ of fascism and consumer capitalism.” Back in her cell, she reaches out from between the bars to black men who remain just beyond her grasp as they lay in a drug-induced torpor. Similarly, another group of men outside her cell superficially bang against its bars with mallets, an image of impotent revolution that is futile in its singularity. Through such metaphors Gerima catalogues not only the experience of black life under white supremacy but also the various ways in which this experience distracts and impedes total liberation. The larger narrative of Child of Resistance is also relevant within the context of
Gerima’s own canon and the ways that he revisits his own cinematic language. The fate of the unnamed prisoner could very well be the fate of Gerima’s protagonist in his feature debut Bush Mama (1975), which follows a black woman named Dorothy as she navigates L.A.’s policing and welfare systems, a reality that awakens her political consciousness when she is captured and imprisoned.
Through the spectre of Jackson, Child of Resistance consciously situates itself among a continuous history of prison abolition and black liberation more broadly, is the backbone of the movement’s continued resonance in today’s cultural and political climate. Their films, although formed in a moment of political urgency, are able to animate the complex struggles of resistance that remain extant to this day. While in conversation with the past and present of black liberation, the film’s ending opens itself up to a dialogue with the future. The unnamed prisoner runs down a long hallway towards a red light, never quite arriving but continuing nonetheless. In this way Child of Resistance is both of its moment and beyond it. In the closing credits she speaks of revolutionary love and we’re transported, instead of the traditional credits screen, to the words of George Jackson in Soledad Brother:
“ If I leave here alive, I’ll leave nothing behind/ They’ll never count me among the broken men/ but I can’t say that I am normal either/ I’ve been hungry too long. I’ve gotten angry too often/ I’ve been lied to and insulted too many times/ They’ve pushed me over the line/ from which there can be no retreat.”- George Jackson, Soledad Brother.
WORKS CITED Wilderson III, F. B. (2010). Red, white & black: Cinema and the structure of US antagonisms. Duke University Press.
Masilela, N. (1993). The Los Angeles school of black filmmakers. Black American Cinema, 107-117.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Kariima is a freelance photographer based in London and co- founder of the art collective Black British Girlhood. When she's not desperately trying to find a language to write about the films she loves, she's watching re-runs of the office." IG: @kariima.a Twitter: @Itsablurtbh
Contextualizing Uprising: Interview with the mastermind behind â€˜Filming Revolutionâ€™
In the second half of issue.2’s Contextualizing Uprising feature, we explore Filming Revolution, the audacious interactive cultural project that attempts to map the complex national and personal histories of the Egyptian Revolution within the context of cinema. The nucleus of Filming Revolution is its official website, which doubles as a archival playground with interviews of nearly thirty artists, activists, and filmmakers discussing their filmmaking work since the revolution which took place between 2011-2014 alongside many other national socio-political upheavals in the region, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring. Navigating the website is a labyrinthine metaphor for the intricate nature of its subject matter. When discussing revolution, there’s a popular approach to dilute the multifaceted narratives into a single proprietary experience that happens in a vacuum, but Filming Revolution flips the script and chooses to showcase the uprising and its citizens as active members of its continuous legacy.
SVLLY(wood) is honored to interview, Dr. Alisa Lebow, the scholar and documentary filmmaker behind the unique platform. SVLLY(wood): You’ve described your project as a ‘meta-documentary’, how do you define the word and why it’s the best template for Filming Revolution? LEBOW: I guess you could say that I didn’t think of my project as a documentary in any familiar sense, but rather a platform to stage a kind of conversation, or curated dialogue, about other people’s documentary (and independent fiction) filmmaking, so in that sense, I thought the term “meta-documentary” was a more appropriate name for a project like this. SVLLY(wood): You’re not only a filmmaker but also a film scholar and professor who has taught around the world! Has the process of curating Filming Revolution shaped how you teach film studies? How do your students approach your style? LEBOW: Well, it has certainly started to shape how I perform my scholarship! It’s not the usual fare for a film theorist, I guess it’s safe to say. What is expected of us is that we write books and articles, which I also do, or have done, but this project to me represents a new way to do film studies—bringing it off the page, connecting it to the medium itself. I think of it as ‘Film Studies 2.0.’ 23
As for my students, I have taught this project, usually in the context of either interactive documentary or representations of the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ I think initially, students are slightly baffled by it—but then they get into it. I’ve had students write some really excellent essays using Filming Revolution as the basis of their research. That has been incredibly gratifying, I have to say.
SVLLY(wood): Many of the interviewees speak candidly on how many of the popular films that came out of the Egyptian Revolution were created by foreigners or to teach a Western audience. You’re not Egyptian but there seems to be a kinship with the project's' participants. Why do you think that is? LEBOW: It’s interesting. The site is almost entirely in English, so that automatically suggests an outsiderness, both mine and the project’s. Clearly, in some real sense, it is just like those other projects made by and for foreigners. But there are a few things that might distinguish this project from the films about the Egyptian Revolution made my nonnatives. The first is that my project is not “about” the revolution, per se, so I am not attempting to narrate, frame, or “own” that event. There are understandable sensitivities about that and while it may be inevitable and even to some extent commendable to attempt to represent events that are not your own as an outsider, you will miss so many things, and you will also likely simplify things in ways that can’t do justice to those events. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of the expert in relation to those events. I ask questions that I’m told few others had asked. As you noted, I’m originally a filmmaker and in fact, I got my start a long time ago, doing activist and advocacy documentary during the AIDS crisis in New York. So I come to these filmmakers as a kind of fellow traveler as much as a researcher, scholar, and foreigner, and perhaps that was somehow perceived by the people I spoke with. The encounters were more like conversations than interviews, and I think that dialogic aspect comes through as well. The conversation may have been initially steered by me— setting it up, asking the first few questions—but inevitably it went in whatever direction the filmmakers took it. I guess when you’ve got two filmmakers in conversation, it can more easily become an equal exchange, rather than a power-imbalanced interview with the interviewer situated as the expert and chronicler.
In fact, because I was really there to learn, to find out about projects and strategies, I think that made a big difference in the dynamic. I asked informed questions, sure, but the basis of expertise was quite firmly in the hands of those being interviewed. I had the privilege of talking to people who not only lived through and experienced events amongst the most momentous of our day, but who are accomplished and incredibly interesting filmmakers as well. I speak with them as a filmmaker, an activist, a sympathizer, and also a scholar. I suppose that despite our differences, there were enough shared registers between us to make us, in a way, kin. Maybe that’s what you’re perceiving. SVLLY(wood): There’s a section on the website dedicated to ‘film as a weapon’ and ‘camera as a resource’ with video interviews and in depth notes. SVLLY(wood) lies on the margins of democratization of art and its resources, which is why we publish every issue digitally for free, so we’re very interested in your definition of the democratization of cinema. LEBOW: By now it’s quite commonly accepted that media-making is in the hands of the people-more than ever before. Corporate media and powerful authoritarian governance may control the airwaves, but they don’t quite fully control the internet, and we have seen time and time again ways in which popular movements outwit and outmaneuver these behemoths using all of the tools at our disposal. This is more about media activism and what is often referred to as “citizen journalism” than it is about filmmaking per se. In my project, I distinguish these two areas of practice not by commitment (political or creative), but by timing and intentionality. Activist media is of the moment and for the moment, and as Khalid Abdalla says in his interview on the site, it’s made in the “shoot it, cut it, upload it” spirit. It’s meant to intervene in a pressing debate, to counteract a wrongful assertion, to have an instantaneous effect. It is not meant to have a long lasting one. The Argentinian filmmaker activist duo Solanas and Getino, when writing one of their many manifestos on Third Cinema, called it “pamphlet” filmmaking. It is meant to intercede strategically in a battle of images, perceptions, or over narrative. That is one type of weapon that film can be. But film can also have much longer term goals, and this exceeds the pamphlet film or the YouTube clip. When film is used creatively for extended projects, it is a different kind of “weapon.” It can engage in much more complex debates and intervene at a more profound level than the immediate event. And really, it is in this type of more elaborated filmmaking, that the website is most interested. Lebow’s additional commentary: Citizen journalism is a term I am not overly fond of, because it seems to imply that citizenship is a necessary validator for a political voice, which I don’t believe or agree with. Certainly an undocumented person or a non-citizen has as much right to voice their political concerns as a citizen. In other words, I believe it is a mistake to invoke citizenship here.
SVLLY(wood): We’ve now ushered in the sixth anniversary of the Arab Spring––what do you hope Filming Revolution provides for its audience and within the framework of other visual media that documented the Egyptian Revolution? LEBOW: These have been a harrowing 6 years and I guess no one can deny that we are in a period of political retrenchment all around the world, not only in Egypt. For me the project does three things: It is a snapshot of a moment in time; a reminder of the generative power of uprising; and an archive for the future. I’ll try to explain.
Snapshot: The interviews for this project were all conducted over a six month period, beginning in December 2013 and ending in June 2014. If you know your contemporary Egyptian history, you would quickly understand that they are bracketed by two momentous events in the course of the revolution. The first set of interviews took place a few months after the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi, and the military’s massacre of over 1000 of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Rabaa Square. The last set of interviews took place during the election and inauguration of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a member of the old guard, former head of the SCAF (Egyptian armed forces) as the 6th President of Egypt. When I first arrived in Egypt to do these interviews, the four month long curfew after Rabaa had just been lifted. The mood was dark, you could almost say, brooding. Yet, it was also a time of reflection. People were not able to be out in the streets organizing, protesting, filming. They were at home or at work on the material they had shot, with time to think about what kinds of films they wanted to make or had been making. It was a good time to be asking questions—not in the heat of the moment, but in its aftermath. Although the initial euphoria had long faded, there was a reckoning of sorts, a kind of ‘what the fuck did we just live through!’ and what do we want or need to do as filmmakers, artists, activists, to make sense of it. For some, it meant moving on and doing projects long on hold. For others, it meant delving deep into their own archive of material and generating incredible work from it. For still others, it meant asking a lot of questions about image making and its relationship to change.
Reminder: It serves as a reminder of the incredible creative and intellectual energy that comes in times of uprising. By bringing all of this material in one place you really get a sense of the range of projects and ideas that people have had in relation to such an important historical event in their, and their country/culture’s, life. The powers that be may be quick to discount this revolution (or any other insurrectionary movement) as a failure, and of course there are plenty of failures to be counted. But for me, these uprisings are nothing short of small miracles. They happen against all odds, and no one can predict how or why they occur. For me, it’s not about success or failure in the sense of the political changing of the guard, it’s about the consolidation of a kind of politics of the street, a rare concentration of collective energy, that has the power to change people at their core. What that unleashes is completely unpredictable, innovative, and irrepressible. The government and its repressive apparati (both public and private) can arrest and censor and attempt to curtail the effects, but some of that incredibly potent energy finds its way into all aspects of society, and the way it changes things is as yet to be revealed. Film and filmmaking is part of that process, and I consider it a political act of solidarity and hope not to forget this.
Archive: It is an archive for the future. I think of this project as a resource for those interested in Egypt and the “Arab Spring” more generally, of course, but also for those interested in filmmaking in times of revolution. I anticipate a time –– in the not too distant future –– when some of the knowledge and strategies expressed here will be of use, not only to researchers (students, scholars, journalists, etc.) but to filmmakers who find themselves in similar circumstances. There are many things to be learned from this project. SVLLY(wood): Creativity tends to live on despite the harsh realities of the political sphere; we hear that within the words of the people you interview but more recently with the anonymous Syrian film collective, Abounaddara Films, who publishes a short film every week. Given the climate of growing fascism in the West, and your knowledge of resistance struggles and visual documentation, do you sense a cinematic uprising? LEBOW: Well, I’m not given to predictions, but as I say, I do believe there are uprisings to come, and the better we understand the various strategies of filming in times of political upheaval and filmmaking in its aftermath, the better prepared we might be in using filmmaking as a weapon in our own struggles with power. I don’t think it’s about a “cinematic uprising” per se, but film has been historically, and will continue to be, an integral part of insurrectionary uprising. That’s one thing we can count on. After building a career in documentary filmmaking, Dr. Alisa Lebow went on to pursue her Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from New York University and currently teaches at University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. Author of multiple books on first person documentary filmmaking and Jewish culture. For more information on Filming Revolution, visit the official website, www.filmingrevolution.org. This is true at least since the Russian Revolution. Remember Lenin declared film to be the most important art for the cause of the revolution.
Founder, Managing Editor, & Interviewer [for INTIFADA!]: Rooney Elmi Senior Copy Line Editor: Katie Martina Senior Copy Line Editor: Meghan King Logo + Cover Designer: Karyima Murphy Editoral Designer: Qaman Omar Junior Artwork Designer: Natasha O. Kappler Special Thanks to Cassie Quarless, Usayd Younis, Dr. Alisa Lebow & Kelly Gallagher for their particaption in INTIFADA! This issue is dedicated to the creatives, critics, and cinephiles who uphold the legacy of uprising in cinema. SOLIDARITY! Vol.1 Issue.3 will be released August 2017. Loosely based on the theme of avant-garde music videos and blackness. Submission guidelines will available on our website in June.
issue.2 of SVLLY(wood) Magazine profiles a cinematic uprising through a trio of essays on black radical tradition, what makes a political fi...
Published on Feb 25, 2017
issue.2 of SVLLY(wood) Magazine profiles a cinematic uprising through a trio of essays on black radical tradition, what makes a political fi...