Saturday, April 30, 2011

History reloaded and remixed

A Review of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Art Threat
April 30, 2011

The mixed tape is a cultural phenomenon that, thankfully, refuses to die. From the time of the earliest printed booklets through to the ubiquitous mixing of audio cassette tapes in the 80s to the sampling and remixing of the 90s and 2000s, people have taken existing media and sculpted into their own assemblages. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Directed by Göran Olsson), which is screening at this year’s Hot Docs in Toronto continues that tradition and does so with a passion and perfection in form and spirit that awakens, inspires and provokes.

The feature length documentary is entirely comprised of 16mm footage filmed by Swedish journalists between 1967 and 1975, covering the “race wars” and black power activism in the USA at that time. Beautifully shot and composed, the source material is a rich treasure trove of intimate interviews, streeters, and verité looking at racism in America from the perspective of those in Black communities fighting against oppression with guns and words.

Priceless footage of Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis delivering powerful monologues about racism had the audience cheering – as if we were catapulted back in time and were right there with them. Of course access to a mountain of amazing source material never guarantees outstanding results, but much like A Film Unfinished, the contemporary filmmakers have stitched together footage that is as compelling and fascinating as any film using modern-day footage.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a masterpiece of archival cinema and resurrects one of the most important historical moments in the trajectory of American politics and race. Never-seen footage of radical leaders like Carmichael and Davis (and many more) helps paint an intimate picture that goes deeper than the much-seen footage of riots and public speeches. With expert editing and a fabulous soundtrack, the film thumps along with a vitality that matches the exciting politics of those tumultuous years.

One of the best decisions the Swedish filmmaking team made was to eschew the standard doc talking head, and instead the film is layered with voice over from contemporary Black artists, academics and activists whose voices are heard over archival footage but whose faces we never see. This visual-audio conversation between the historic giants of social change and contemporary fighters is cinematic magic and should be seen in every classroom in America.

The fight for equality and against race oppression is far from over in the USA and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 resurrects incredible historic moments and personalities from the Swedish archives to connect the passion of the past with the present in a way no other documentary has accomplished before.

This is one mixtape that needs to be shared – don’t miss your chance to experience it.

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