Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2011 3:28 pm 
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A Swedish look at the Black Power era

What can Göran Hugo Olsson, a Swede born in 1965, add to our understanding of the Black Power movement in America? The answer is not a lot, really, other than a "clean and clear" point of view uncolored by American emotions or prejudices of the movement's radical rise and importance as a new generation's break from the passive resistance of Dr. King leading up the its decline under violent attack from US law and the FBI and the government-induced drug epidemic. But to tell the story, Olsson had access to some rich and beautiful newly unearthed footage shot by Swedish journalists. And by "mixtape" he means that he added new commentary by Black Americans who were around at the time and have lived to tell their tale -- or, more accurately, to reassess the significance of events in the light of today. In the discovered footage, in particular there is more than usual of Stokely Carmichael (including him interviewing his mother), an interview with Kathleen Cleaver when she was in jail, a full-dress interview with Lewis Farrakhan on the eve of his rise to power, and, perhaps best of all, much lovely and atmospheric old 16mm color footage of life on the streets off Harlem.

A peculiar interlude concerns how TV Guide, oddly described as "the most popular magazine in America," published a cover story by the editor that lambasted Sweden's depiction of American politics. Emile De Antonio is shown putting the magazine in its place as idiotic and read by idiots.

The Swedish descriptions of Harlem treat it as if it were some third world country. There is a Marxist slant that's not out of place in describing the demographics there and the radical aims of the Black Panther Party of Oakland, whose free breakfasts where children are led in empowerment chants are shown, and which were famously described by J. Edgar Hoover as the most dangerous activity in America. It doesn't always come together. Though Last Poets member Abiodun Oyewole is one of the contemporary "mixtape" voiceovers, the Swedes can't give a full sense of the American context, and the American present time speakers, like Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Cleaver, Angela Davis, Talib Kweili, Bobby Seale, and Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, discuss 1968 as if it only happened in America. Oddly, a world-wide picture of the Sixties political upheavals is never drawn.

Göran Hugo Olsson has made commercials, shorts, documentaries, and music videos. This is his first documentary feature. It won the World Documentary Editing award at Sundance in January and was also shown at Berlin in February and will be shown at Miami, Istanbul, and San Francisco. Sundance Selects is distributing the film. Seen and described as part of New Directors/New Films, presented March 23-April 3, 2011 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

ND/NF screenings:
2011-03-26 | 9:00 PM | MoMA
2011-03-28 | 6:00 PM | FSL

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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