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Black Film Collectives: Then and Now

Black Film Workshops were prominent in the 1980s as a way of responding to racial injustice and civil unrest through cinema. Primarily funded by the newly formed Channel 4 and the Greater London Council, their creation was seen as critical to engage with filmmakers and artists who were, at the time, working outside of the mainstream film industries in order for them to produce work that would offer them a wider audience. 

A number of Black Film Workshops (Such as the Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and Ceddo Film and Video Workshop) were by multi-disciplinary artists, including Menelik Shabazz, John Akomfrah, Martina Atille and Maureen Blackwood. Broadly speaking, they were to reflect the ills of society through a range of visual arts, from feature films to documentaries. In addition, their work existed to look at how the Black community dealt with its problematic colonial past, as well as extensively covering identity, race, class, whilst looking to America’s Civil Rights struggle and Black Feminism.

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Creating “some of the most challenging and experimental documentaries in Britain in the 1980’s” (British Film Institute) the Black Audio Film Collective was formed by seven artists, with arguably their most impactful work being the seminal  1986 film essay “Handsworth Songs”,  which documented the previous years civil unrest in both London and Birmingham, whilst exploring how British society reacted to Black and Brown people. 

The Sankofa Film and Video Collective was founded by Martina Attille, Maureen Blackwood, Isaac Julien, Nadine Marsh-Edwards and Robert Crusz in 1983. Sankofa means to go back into the past to use information that help us in the present and future, and their work centred around creating an ecosystem of Black Film which included producing work, audience development and exhibiting films. 

Sankofa’s themes in their work greatly vary, from politics, Black History, the uncovering of personal histories and sexuality, typified in work such as Passion of Remembrance (Maureen Blackwood, 1986), Dreaming Rivers (Martina Attille, 1988) and Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989).

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The Ceddo Film and Video Workshop were founded by members Menelik Shabazz (whose work, “Blood Ah Go Run” can be seen projected within the exhibition), Milton Bryan, Imruh Bakari Caesar, Glenn Ujebe Masokoane, and Roy Cornwall, and all had prior experience in producing film and television.

Their most infamous work is undoubtedly  1985’s “The People’s Account”, which documented the Broadwater Farm Riot in North London, where its depiction of the police as lawless racists saw it reprimanded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The filmmakers refused to make changes, and the film was removed from schedules, and, at the time of writing, has never been shown on British Television. 

Images: from The People’s Account, 1985 by Milton Bryan