The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

ANGELA DAVIS and BO HOLMSTROM, San Rafael County Prison, 1972, in an image from THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975, directed by Goran Olsson. Photograph by Tom Goetz ©Story AB. A SUNDANCE SELECTS Release.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)

Opened: 09/09/2011 Limited

Limited09/09/2011
IFC Center09/09/2011 - 11/10/201163 days
Lincoln Plaza09/09/2011 - 09/22/201114 days
The Nuart09/23/2011 - 09/29/20117 days
Kendall Square...09/30/2011 - 10/20/201121 days
Laemmle's Moni...09/30/2011 - 10/06/20117 days
Laemmle's Play...09/30/2011 - 10/06/20117 days
Music Box Thea...10/14/2011 - 10/20/20117 days
DVD12/13/2011

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

Synopsis

At the end of the 1960's, numerous Swedish journalists came to the US, drawn by stories of urban unrest and revolution. Filming for close to a decade, they gained access to many of the leaders of the Black Power movement -- Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver among them -- capturing them in intimate moments and remarkably unguarded interviews. Thirty years later, this lush collection of 16mm film, peppered with footage of Black Panther activities and B-roll images of black America, was found languishing in the basement of Swedish Television. Director Goran Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover bring this mesmerizing footage to light and, integrating audio interviews with prominent African-American artists and activists who were influenced by the struggle -- from Erykah Badu to Harry Belafonte -- craft a dynamic chronicle of the birth and life of a movement.

About the Production

At the end of the Sixties and into the early Seventies, European interest in the US Civil Rights Movement and the US anti-war movement peaked. With a combination of commitment and naivete, Swedish filmmakers traveled across the Atlantic to explore the Black Power Movement, which was being alternately ignored or portrayed in the US media as a violent, nascent terrorist movement. Despite the obstacles they were confronted with, both from the conservative white American power establishment and from radicalized Movement members themselves, the Swedish filmmakers did not cease their investigation and ultimately formed bonds with key figures in the Movement, based on their common objective of realizing equal rights for all.

In the Black Power Mixtape filmmaker Goran Olsson brings this newly discovered footage to light and introduces it to a new generation across the world in a penetrating examination -- through the lens of Swedish filmmakers -- of the Black Power Movement from 1967-75, and its worldwide resonance.

That the film is told from the Swedish perspective lends it a unique advantage -- it establishes the era, place and its perspective cleanly and clearly, and without bringing the kind of loaded assumptions or baggage to the subject matter that have long kept the story of the Movement from mainstream discussion. Where the earlier US Civil Rights Movement has been recognized if somewhat sanitized, the Black Power Movement has been historically vilified on the one hand and fetishized on the other. Its legacy has not been properly contextualized, and its influence on other liberation struggles and political movements has been virtually erased. The film emphasizes intimate and reflective moments with the intention of situating the Movement both in its domestic and international context, while at the same time introducing contemporary perspectives on its successes and failures, its resonance and importance today.

Filmed interviews include such figures as Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and Angela Davis when she was in prison, as well as footage from Lars Ulvestam's televised film Harlem: Voices, Faces. (When that film aired in Sweden, the embarrassed US Ambassador to Sweden demanded and was granted airtime on Swedish Television to explain away the film's "many flaws".)

Audio interviews with key contemporary figures complement the archival and create a formal mosaic that is uplifting and moving in its impact, introducing a new generation to a dynamic progressive movement for change. Utilizing an innovative format that riffs on the popular 70s 'mixtape', the Black Power Mixtape film is a cinematic and musical journey into the ghettos of America that features some of the country's most innovative recording artists.

At its heart, The Black Power Mixtape is a story about empowerment. It's a moving and inspirational vehicle that takes the audience on a journey through the specific time period of 1967-1975 and the pressing issues of concern then (the Vietnam war, failing public schools, drug addiction, record levels of incarceration, extreme poverty, lack of government accountability and the pervasiveness of structural racism) while at the same time organically provoking deep questions about where Americans find themselves and the country today.

With the clear objective of introducing a new generation to the Black Power Movement, the filmmaker worked with some of today's most talented artists (including Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Om'Mas Keith) to create a soundtrack that complements and enhances the form and content of the film.

As the Movement went far beyond the purely political, the film also takes us on a cinematic journey into the styles, culture, fashion and more deeply -- questions of identity that were critical to the empowerment and education of subsequent generations.

Director's Notes

There was a rumor around for years among filmmakers that Sweden had more archive material on the Black Panthers than the entire USA. A couple of years ago, I was working on a film on Philly Soul and was browsing the archives at the Swedish Television and found out that it was true. Maybe not exactly, but the stuff on the Black Power movement was amazing and rich. I immediately knew this was golden. Absolutely crisp footage with amazing personalities, shown only once a long time ago, in Sweden. The moment we saw the archive footage that makes up the film, we knew we where going to do The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75, one way or another. We didn't sit and wait for approval from anyone; we started doing what we believed in, and found the funds along the way. I also saw it as my duty to take these fantastic images from the cellar and make them accessible to an audience.

My interest and dedication to this project has its roots in the 1970s when, as a student, my school years were infused with a sense of solidarity with liberation movements. Many of my classmates were children of Holocaust survivors or expelled Jews from the 1968 pogroms in Poland, others were part of the Allende-Chilean exile community living in Sweden. We raised monies for the ANC after the Soweto uprising in South Africa, and in 1980-81 all of us were engaged in support work for the Solidarity strikes in Poland. My own consciousness was deeply affected by these struggles.

The film is a Mixtape, not a remix. I wanted to keep the feeling of the material, not cut it into pieces. My respect for not only the personalities in the images, but also for the filmmakers, is total. The people in the film changed the world for the better. Not only for black people in America, or any marginalized group, but for all people. They showed that you couldn't sit around and wait for someone to give you your rights; you have to take a stand and realize them. And this goes for every individual, even if you are a white middle-class male living in Sweden. It's about self-empowerment as well as empowering others.

I decided to riff on the popular '70s 'mixtape' format, which I feel will appeal aesthetically and formally to younger generations, and to include audio interviews with key contemporary figures to complement the unusual beauty of 16mm archival, putting the images in context and creating a formal mosaic that is uplifting and moving in impact.

To me the biggest surprise in making THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 was meeting one of my subjects - Angela Davis. I had admired her for so many years from seeing her on TV and her biography. The footage that we assembled in the film is something that no one outside of Swedish television had seen before. While watching those segments from years ago, I was moved by her interviews and the way she spoke so directly and with knowledge and a subtlety that was so powerful. Then, when I actually met her, I was blown away completely. I felt kind of chastened presuming she was this solely this ultra-serious scholar, only to find out she was a humorous, witty and very warm person. It was great.

Further, this same feeling of surprise resonated with all the other persons I had interviewed for the film. As a documentary filmmaker, you aren't quite sure how your subjects and interviewees are going to respond especially on a film that covers many sensitive issues. But everyone involved with THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 that we approached for interviews and participation has been so generous and giving including: Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Cleaver, Sonia Sanchez, Bobby Seale and Questlove who also provided the film with best imaginable music.

The hardest part of doing The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 was to leave out wonderful stuff that didn't fit into the storyline. For example, we had some awesome footage about the Shirley Chisholm campaign in 1972, and I still have sleepless nights for cutting it out. But we just could not make room for it.

My desire is to create a film that illuminates the remarkable people, society, activism, culture and styles that fuelled a change.

-- Goran Hugo Olsson (Filmmaker)

Co-Producer's Notes

I will never forget the day this tall, lanky Swede, Goran Olsson, walked into my office at Louverture Films and announced he wanted to make a film about the Black Power movement. Once I got over the initial surprise, and Goran started to roll the footage, I had a different kind of surprise. I rang up my producing partner Danny Glover immediately and said, "There's something extraordinary you've got to see."

At Louverture we were tremendously excited to participate in producing a film that presents the Black Power movement and the people who shaped it in a compelling and fresh way, other than the one we as Americans have been historically conditioned to accept with all its stereotypes and cliches. (And I refer to those of us who actually know about the Black Power movement, because Black Power has to a large extent been deliberately erased.) The Swedish angle is tremendously helpful as while it comes with its own assumptions and presumptions, these are far less loaded with baggage than American interviews from the same time period.

In The Black Power Mixtape, we finally see the intelligence, analysis, humanism and humour - the genuinely committed response to the unjust conditions of the time, many of which persist or are even worse today. From Malcolm X, to the split in SNCC in the direction of Stokely Carmichael, to the Black Panther Party's attempt to model an alternative way of living in response to state sponsored violence, to the attempted legal lynching of Angela Davis, we see the intellect and courage that fired a movement unsatisfied with the progress and process of the civil rights struggle that preceded it. We also see the state response, COINTELPRO, the roots of the surveillance society we live today in 2011: infiltration, provocateurism, entrapment, renditions, assassinations and the suspension of civil liberties and rights.

The people who emerged as leaders in this time period, whether we agree in retrospect with what they might have said then or not, created an important and lasting legacy. Some of the major gains of the civil rights movement and other progressive movements would not have existed without the committed stand the Black Power movement took. Black studies, Africana studies would likely not exist at all if it had not been for them. And the Black Power movement was one of the first to move beyond single issues and to ultimately reach out to other struggles for social justice like the American Indian Movement (AIM), and the Chicano and feminist movements. In India today, there is a social justice movement by the Dalit (untouchables) caste called the "Dalit Panthers."

We offer this film in the spirit of empowerment. We hope to inspire ourselves and younger generations to continue the work, and to believe in the possibility of positive change in our own time.

-- Joslyn Barnes (Co-producer, Louverture Films)

 

Trailer