Civil Rights Documentary Cinema and the 1960s: Transatlantic Conversations on History, Race and Rights at The British Academy, London on 24-26 May 2016 (BRITISH ACADEMY LANDMARK CONFERENCE)

Civil Rights Documentary Cinema and the 1960s: Transatlantic Conversations on History, Race and Rights at The British Academy, London on 24-26 May 2016
This conference is co-sponsored by the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, the University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham.
This conference – held in memory of American social activist, politician and leader in the civil rights movement Julian Bond (1940-2015) – brings together documentary filmmakers, activists, and film, history and media scholars. Its focus is films based in civil rights history and inspired by it. It will promote a trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas around film production, activist subjects, and historical research in the making of civil rights cinema, civil rights history and cultural memory. It examines race and rights – activism, massive resistance, film and visual cultures – to intervene creatively in the history of the 1960s and in the historiography of the civil rights movement.
The convenors are:
·         Prof. Sharon Monteith, Founding Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, University of Nottingham,
·         Dr George Lewis, University of Leicester
·         Prof Nahem Yousaf, Nottingham Trent University
·         Dr Helen Laville, University of Birmingham
Speakers and filmmakers:
·         John Akomfrah OBE, Smoking Dogs Films and co-founder of the Black Audio Film Collective (1982-1998), artist and filmmaker, UK
·         Dr Reece Auguiste, documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the Black Audio Film Collective (1982-1998), University of Colorado, US
·         Eduardo Montes-Bradley, director of Julian Bond: Reflections from the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement (2012), writer and director with Heritage Films Project at the University of Virginia, US
·         Professor Clayborne Carson, selected in 1985 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King to edit and publish the papers of her late husband Martin Luther King, Jr. is Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor of History at Stanford University, US
·         Professor Jon Else, documentary filmmaker and Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, US, was co-producer and cinematographer on Henry Hampton’s Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1987)
·         Matthew Graves, Southern Documentary Film Project, University of Mississippi, US
·         Professor Peter Ling, University of Nottingham, UK
·         Professor Allison Graham, documentary filmmaker and historian and co-producer of At the River I Stand, University of Memphis, US
·         Judy Richardson, documentary filmmaker and co-director of Scarred Justice and co-produced Blackside’s Malcolm X: Make It Plain,former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and education consultant throughout the production of  Eyes on the Prize, US
·         David Shulman, director of Ballots & Bullets in Mississippi, as well as Race Against Prime Time (1985) and Everyone’s Channel (1990), a history of alternative media used to counter racist speech, US and UK
·         Professor Stephen Tuck, University of Oxford, UK
·         Professor Clive Webb, University of Sussex, UK
Films screened will include selections from the ground-breaking 14-hour documentary series Eyes on the Prize I (1987) and full screenings of:
·         At the River I Stand (1993);
·         Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968 (2008), a UK premiere; 
·         Rebels: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (2012) a UK premiere; 
·         The March (2013); 
·         Ballots and Bullets in Mississippi (aka Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi, 2015)
To view the programme and to register for the conference please visit the British Academy event page.
In conjunction with the conference, there is will also be a free event to honour Julian Bond, including the UK premiere of Julian Bond: Reflections from the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement with its director Eduardo Montes-Bradley
Julian Bond was an activist, politician, lawyer, writer, and educator. In the wake of his sudden passing in 2015, this event celebrates the life of one of the key figures in American Civil Rights with a screening of a documentary of his life followed by a discussion with the director of the film and those who worked with Julian Bond and who knew him well.
·         Eduardo Montes-Bradley, the film’s director
·         Judy Richardson, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with Julian in the 1960s. Judy ran  Julian Bond’s  first successful campaign for the Georgia legislature
·         Professor Clayborne Carson, Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor of History, Stanford University
·         Chair: Professor Sharon Monteith, University of Nottingham
Organised in connection with the British Academy Conference Civil Rights Documentary Cinema and the 1960s: Transatlantic Conversations on History, Race and Rights on Tuesday 24th May.  Please register for this separately at the British Academy event page.

Exhibition: In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain – Larissa Sansour (by Mara Sprengel)

In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain
Larissa Sansour

New Art Exchange, 31-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham
15 January – 13 March 2016

by Mara Sprengel

Larissa Mansour

I begin with a disclaimer: I am enamoured with the work of Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour. This lends this piece a certain amount of bias which, to be honest, I am not entirely unhappy about!

Sansour’s work is interdisciplinary. She uses film, photography, installation and sculpture through which she interrogates questions of Palestinian nationhood, territory and identity. Confronted with a situation often described as Kafka-esque or unreal, a hostile present of bureaucratic restrictions of movement and heavily controlled land, resources and airspace, and an increasingly contested past, Sansour turns to the genre of sci-fi in order to further distort reality and to attempt to answer the ‘question’ of Palestine. The collection currently being shown at the New Art Exchange comprises three films: A Space Exodus (2009), Nation Estate (2012) and In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015). Film stills and sculpture installations, including a gang of Palestinauts (2010) which scamper up the walls, offer variety to the exhibition. A poster ‘advertising’ Nation Estate parodies Franz Kraus’ iconic 1936 ‘Visit Palestine’ image, destabilising its intended Zionist and orientalist notions. The works are ideally displayed on black walls which serve to focus attention on the screens and well-lit sculptures whilst also creating an intimacy which envelopes the viewer.

With a running time of just over five minutes, A Space Exodus (2009) is the shortest of the three films. We journey with Sansour as she travels to the moon in order to claim an alternative homeland space for the Palestinians. Elements of traditional Palestinian culture are cleverly intertwined with dominant narratives of space exploration and expansionism. Such narratives, often Western and masculine, are challenged and subverted here by a Middle Eastern female astronaut striking out on her own to claim territory for her people.

Set in a near-future dystopia, Sansour’s Nation Estate (2012) provides a witty but surreal ‘solution’ to Palestinian claims for a nation state and counters the issue of ever-diminishing space in the West Bank. Palestinian sumud [1] and resolute refusal to leave their ancestral homeland has been nightmarishly re-envisioned and as the film progresses we see that a grotesque paradoxical compromise to the issue of territoriality and land ownership in Israel/Palestine has been reached. The Palestinians remain in-situ and maintain a very visible presence in the landscape. However their location is absolute and they are intensely surveilled, ghettoised and prevented from moving outside of a very defined and specific space. All opportunities for contact between Israelis and Palestinians have been removed and the very essence of Palestinian life has been neatly compartmentalised into a sterile and internationalised space. Palestinian identity has been reduced to a series of motifs which figure throughout the short film, with monuments and relics reproduced in a form of Disneyfication, providing a stark contrast to the reality of the occasionally visible ancient landscape ‘outside’.

The confusion of tenses in the title In The Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015) indicates a temporal disruption and, as we travel through time with a self-proclaimed ‘narrative terrorist’, we begin to understand why. As she distributes shards of porcelain decorated with a keffiyeh [2] pattern throughout space and time for future generations to discover, the protagonist seeks to write the Palestinians not only into history but also into time. The viewer is responsible for piecing together the narrative which is offered in the form of layers of historical photographs, film, visual tropes and an oral soundtrack. This allows the film to examine the role of fiction in history and in doing so not only challenges accepted notions of truth and historical entitlement to land but also subverts archaeological strategies utilised by Israeli authorities to legitimise claims to land.

Sansour’s use of sci-fi to produce meaningful and intensely politicised works enables the creation of a potentially limitless and liberating cultural space through which Palestinian identity can be renegotiated and considered. The highly polished aesthetic of her films results in a beauty, despite the disquieting subject matter, and the use of Hollywood tropes and references in her work facilitates cultural interconnectivity and a crossing of boundaries. When the three films are viewed as a collection, ideally in chronological order, you can chart the progression and development of Sansour’s ideas which are crystallised in the final film. I can’t wait to see where her next project leads her and I urge you to take the opportunity to see Sansour’s inventive and challenging work whilst it’s in Nottingham. She will be discussing her practice with curator and critic Nat Muller on 26th February 2015. See you there!

[1] Arabic for ‘steadfastness’ although the wider Palestinian implications of the term are linked to themes of resistance.
[2] Pattern taken from a scarf which is synonymous with Palestinian nationalism.

Further reading:
 Larissa Sansour
 New Art Exchange
 Makhoul, Bashir, ed., Palestinian Video Art: Constellation of the Moving Image (Palestinian Art Court – al Hoash: Jerusalem, 2013)
 Dabashi, Hamid, Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (Verso: London, 2007)
 Gertz, Nurith and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma, and Memory (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2008)

Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’ (by Beth Evans)

Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’

Response to filmmaker Perivi Kajavivi’s visit and post-production film screening at NTU, 11 November 2015

by Beth Evans, BA English, 14 January 2016


Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’.

As one of the lucky few able to view of a number of scenes and speak with Perivi Katjavivi about his upcoming film, ‘The Unseen’, scheduled to premiere in February 2016 at the Pan African Film Festival, I am excited to watch the film in its entirety as soon as it is available. ‘The Unseen’, which Katjavivi suggests should be understood as a ‘blending of fiction and documentary’, explores the liminal spaces of present day Namibia and follows three seemingly dissimilar characters as they experience the authentic and lesser-seen realities of the country.

With little else in common, the characters Marcus, an African-American aspiring actor, Sara, a traveller who is contemplating committing suicide, and Anu, a musician caught between Namibian traditions and Western rap, all experience a state of what Katjavivi refers to as ‘internal flux’. ‘The Unseen’ follows its protagonists through their processes of self-identification as they face frustration and anxiety at the feeling of existing in two places at once. Katjavivi suggests that the characters do represent a ‘postcolonial identity’, which he clarifies by referring to Homi Bhabha’s concept of ‘ambivalence’ or the dual identity of the colonised other, though he is hesitant to accept the suggestion that his film is purely representative of Namibia’s postcolonial experience. Instead, Katjavivi suggests that ‘The Unseen’ should be understood as an ‘honest film’ about individual experiences which tie together to display universal issues.

This idea is gloriously evident in the enticing opening scene, in which we are almost painfully slowly drawn into the world of the film and its characters. The introductory shot presents us with an eerily empty and peaceful road, interjected with shadows. The setting is unknown and the shadows mask the characters’ identities. By concealing this information, the film immediately achieves a sense of universality through its refusal to offer any answers to the questions of where we are and who were are watching. The slow pace of the opening and its lack of dialogue are deeply enticing, enhanced only by the eventual close-ups of the characters’ faces which draw us into their very personal lives. Besides leaving me desperately wanting to watch more, it seems apparent from this opening that Katjavivi is keen to establish his film as one which concerns the individual experiences of life in Namibia.

Western audiences, Katjavivi explains, do not often allow themselves to think of Africa in terms of economy, relationships, and career and generally fixate on trying to find representations of colonialism and postcolonialism within African art. This discussion leads Katjavivi to express concern over the extent to which film should engage with social and political issues. The filmmaker recognises that colonialism is a part of Africa’s past and present and should therefore be addressed through film and other arts, but he does not believe it should be at the forefront of all African art. Katjavivi defends his stance with the persuasive argument that ‘a German filmmaker is just a filmmaker, no one else is burdened with this.’ However, Katjavivi eagerly offers areas in which his film does tackle the issue of postcolonial representation.

For example, Katjavivi explains that he wanted ‘The Unseen’ to be an authentic representation of Namibian life, rather than one shadowed by Western ideas of an underdeveloped Africa. The filmmaker achieves this through a number of techniques. The decision to film in black and white, for example, destabilises the stereotypical image of Africa as always brightly coloured and vibrant and offers an opposing image to consider. Katjavivi also filmed improvised scenes with real people, rather than actors, within the liminal spaces of Namibia, which creates a documentary-like feel for ‘The Unseen’ and presents its audiences with the realities of the country. Tackling universal issues within the context of Namibia through his film sounds like an exciting and emotional journey for Katjavivi, and I am thoroughly looking forward to watching the full film.


Beth Evans is a third year English undergraduate at NTU, undertaking a Dissertation on Black British writing and the UK publishing industry.