Free radicals

A look at political movements and moments, past and present, with the aid of the odd book and several films screened at the London Film Festival, but focusing on Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, by Jerry Whyte – PART 1

 
"Whether you're black as a crow or white as snow, if you don't
know and ain't got no dough, you're not gonna go."
Lewis Micheaux, in The Black Power Mixtape
"The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming
disillusioned. There must be pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will."
Antonio Gramsci

 

Introduction

Last month, when I reviewed Tahrir 2011, a powerful trilogy of documentaries about the recent revolution in Egypt, I said I hoped the Egyptian revolution would continue and suggested that, if it did not, the Egyptian people might face a depressing return to the atrocious social and political conditions that applied under Mubarak's dictatorship. I went on to quote a pertinent remark by Mao. When asked if the French revolution had been a success, he famously said, "It's too early to say." In the weeks since my review, the young, secular revolutionaries of Egypt have restated, in spectacular style, the argument that it is always too early to foreclose on emancipatory possibilities and to judge history. As I write, Tahrir Square remains occupied, as Egyptians continue to stand their ground and square up to the counter-revolution. The recent elections, the rules for which were set by the military, are unlikely to do much beyond rubber stamp those whose imported rubber bullets and tear gas canisters have been aimed at protesters since the Days of Rage of January and February. Meanwhile, in Phnom Penn, three former leaders of the Khymer Rouge are simultaneously undergoing trial for 'crimes against humanity', an event that supports the complementary, if apparently paradoxical argument that it is never too late to hold tyranny to account.

Events in Egypt remind us that revolutionary ideals and impulses tend to remain stubbornly alive long after they appear to have faded out, while that trial in Cambodia reminds us that the distortion and perversion of revolutionary ideas can have catastrophic consequences. The Egyptian revolution could well be wrestled from the hands of progressive groups and become an adjunct of what Christopher Hitchins called, 'Fascism with an Islamic face,' but it is equally possible that the Islamic forces aligned with the pro-democracy movement – the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party if not the reactionary Al-Nour Salafis – might be democratized and politicized during an ongoing process of struggle. It is also possible that the military regime will return to its authoritarian ways and erase the revolution and its exponents with the same clinical barbarity that Pinchot dismantled Allende's popular democracy in Chile. Again, it is too early to say. We can say with certainty, though, that we are living through times of encouraging if unsettling seismic change, where it is all to play for.

This year the sands of history began shifting, not only beneath Arab authoritarianism, but even beneath the seemingly immutable monumental edifice of Capitalism. As the banking system falters and our planet slowly dies, bodies such as the G20, the EU, the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation are coming under increasingly sceptical scrutiny. Voices are being raised in protest throughout the world: from Greek kharatsi refuseniks to Spanish Indignados; from the economically disenfranchised of Latin American favelas, Arab souks and African shanty towns, to the Occupy activists, environmentalists and striking public sector workers of the overdeveloped West. Not since the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain were torn down has there been such widespread popular disgust with business-as-usual politics, nor a greater sense that people are re-entering history. At the Occupy camp in front of St Paul's recently somebody held aloft a banner that posed the cheeky question: "Are you angry or are you boring?" There has been a recent rise in the number of those who'd reply: "Angry!" We may be entering a new era of global political rebellion in which people question democratic as well as financial deficits, one in which that elusive Utopian moment Chris Marker alludes to in Sans Soleil arrives, and those who revolt against poverty unite in common cause with those who revolt against wealth. Be that as it may, that groundswell of dissatisfaction is unlikely to evaporate.

Paul Robeson said, "Each generation makes its own history." There are times when currents of emancipatory energy crisscross the world with astonishing speed, gathering force as they go, particularly among the young. Ours may be such times; the late '60s and early '70s certainly were. I will focus here on two films that consider that exciting period, and which hold lessons for ours: Leila Doolan's life of indefatigable Human Rights campaigner Bernadette Devlin, Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, and Göran Hugo Olsson's film about the Black Panthers, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. These films stand as correctives to a rewriting of history that has sanitised the Civil Rights Movements in the US and Ireland, and to a systematic process of organised forgetting. They rescue various inspirational individuals from obscurity, reminding us of people who, acting upon the simple but revolutionary belief that political change could bring about improvements in their communities, confronted established power structures with a degree of utopian political passion seldom seen since. Both films clarify and inform where confusion and ignorance is most pronounced, for few political groups have been either as widely misunderstood or willfully misrepresented as Irish Republicans and the Black Panthers. They remind us of movements which, like the one in Egypt that has occupied the world's attention this year, refused to allow political possibilities to be defined and delimited by electoral contests they considered corrupt, compromised and irrelevant. In doing so, the films challenge contemporary complacency, cynicism, inaction and indifference.

Cinematic Connections

When I completed that review of Tahrir 2011 a few weeks back, I'd intended to move swiftly on to the two documentaries reviewed below and to wind up my London Film Festival coverage with a retrospective round-up. Post-festival fatigue set in, though, then work and life dragged me off in other directions. Although that was frustrating, there's something to be said for allowing films to move in your mind for a while before writing about them. Most reviewers work to tight deadlines, so they tend to throw out thoughts fast and loose, be they brilliant or banal. Freed of those time constraints we here have the luxury of contemplation, and can let thought breathe and grow. When one rolls films around in one's mind over a period, ideas attach themselves to others and draw others to them. You begin to notice connections between films that were not initially apparent, and to read and think around those connections. I hope you'll forgive, then, and follow me at least a part of the way, as I leap around a little and attempt to tune in to what feels like a conversation between certain books and films.

In my focus on two explicitly political films that consider contentious political ideas and individuals, I will, inevitably, discuss politics and reveal something of my own political attitudes. It is always worth restating, because so frequently forgotten or denied, that directors have political perspectives as surely as do their audiences, that all participants in the production and reception of films bring their politics with them, and that all images have ideologies stuck to them. It goes without saying that reviewers too, this one included, have their political prejudices too. These surface most obviously when documentary opens up space for democratic debate, often around political questions marginalised or misrepresented by the mainstream media. Documentary film culture tends to be more transparent in these respects than narrative cinema, and to reveal the hidden connections of history more effectively. Documentaries make an invaluable contribution to the free flow of information and ideas essential to free societies, and, in so doing, they tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves more than films primarily concerned with telling tales. The two documentaries that I consider below certainly make no apologies for partisan political passion. We might paraphrase Orwell and say that all films are political but some are more obviously political than others. In considering Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey and The Black Power Mixtape, I will make passing references to several films screened during this year's London Film Festival, films that are less obviously political, but are political nonetheless. I hope these films reveal the chasm separating electoral and participatory forms of democracy, which is the gap between politics as it is and as it might be.

Cynicism vs Idealism

Two living legends of contemporary film culture slugged it out for the public's attention at this year's festival: George Clooney, the epitome of intelligent commercial cinema, appeared in two films screened at the festival, while Jonas Mekas, the embodiment of poetic avant-garde filmmaking, appeared in no less than three. It is testimony to the festival's success in creating a democracy of cinema that two such markedly different directors should be allocated so much screen time. Clooney flew in to the LFF fresh from the New York Film Festival, where he was promoting Alexander Payne's The Dependents, in which he stars. While in London for the festival, he took to the red carpet twice: first to promote his political thriller The Ides of March, and then again, to promote Payne's film, again. Clooney had delayed the release of his own film to allow the surge of optimism that followed Barack Obama's election to pass. It was a good call. Clooney's film, which he directs and in which he stars, reveals the conniving cynicism of machine politicians. It would have cast a dark shadow over a momentarily sunny mood in the States. Seasoned observers would have seen the comedown coming. At a packed LFF press conference for The Ides of March, Clooney said: "I don't think Hollywood will have much to do with changing politics. Right now, in the United States, 95 per cent of the people who win elections have the most money. That's it! Money is a big part of elections." Elsewhere at the festival, he said: "There's a lot of cynicism out there. Cynicism is winning over idealism right now." In The Ides of March Clooney plays an idealistic Democrat with a social conscience contesting a Primary in Ohio. As he bids to enter the cynical, shark-infested waters of party politics, he is forced to sacrifice his integrity and wager his soul for electoral success. Integrity is in short supply in the bland circus that passes for politics today; The Ides of March suggests that is now a matter of Machiavellian expediency, shabby compromise, and, as one of the film's campaign managers puts it, of getting down in the dirt with the elephants. In an interview with Timothy O'Grady (co-author of Curious Journey: An Oral History of Ireland's Unfinished Revolution), the late, great Studs Terkel told an anecdote that perfectly captures what has happened to politics in our times. "Two guys walking in the street, one walking normally, the other bent way over to the right. The straight one says, 'How ya doin', Charlie?' The other one says, 'Hey, what's happened to you? You're way over to the left'. 'No I'm not, Charlie, I'm standing straight.' 'You're so far to the left you're a terrorist!' says Charlie. The Democratic Party is now over there with Charlie."

Free Radicals

Jonas Mekas is a filmmaker of considerable integrity who has seldom, if ever, made a film for reasons of expediency or financial gain. His entire career reminds us that we are defined as much by what we refuse to do as that which we do. He, too, was present in person at this year's LFF, to present his film, Sleepless Nights Stories, featuring Björk, Louis Garrel, Harmony Korine and Patti Smith. Mekas also appeared at the festival on screen, in Pip Chodorov's Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film, and in Correspondence: Jonas Mekas – JL Guerín. Chodorov's Free Radicals takes us on a magical, mysterious tour through much of the best of avant-garde cinema. Along the way we meet legends such as Stan Brackage, Maya Deren, Ken Jacobs, Mekas himself, and Andy Warhol. The film takes its title from an extraordinary film by Len Lye, one-time collaborator with Humphrey Jennings. Lye's Free Radicals (1958), which Chodorov shows in its entirety, is a black and white scratch animation short, cut to the insistent rhythmic accompaniment of an African drum solo.* It immediately calls to mind the unforgettable opening scenes of Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas' Third Cinema classic La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968).** While equally exciting and radical, these strikingly similar films hint at the  extent to which the world and the political landscape had changed in the decade between their respective release dates, and between then and now. We have no way of knowing if Getino and Solanas knew of Len Lye's film. We know, however, that films exchange ideas, talking to one another across time, and that the conversation between radical aesthetics and radical politics is ongoing, with both daring to 'make it new' and set the world on its feet, by turning it upside down.

Correspondence: Jonas Mekas – JL Guerín, takes the form of five film-letters between the two directors. It contains one the most memorable moments of this year’s festival. In Geurín's last 'letter' to Mekas, he films Yoshijurio Ozu's grave at the Buddhist temple of Engaku-ji in Kamakura. While there, he also records the attempts of a number of ants to move a twig up the slippery cliff face of a tomb. They keep falling back down, but, refusing to be beaten, they struggle indefatigably on. This closing scene of the film brought gasps from the audience. It is as tense a moment as any in Hitchcock's oeuvre and might usefully stand as a metaphor for political struggle. Throughout Correspondence, Jonas Mekas and José Luis Geurín exchange ideas on cinema, memory, history, politics and . . . snow: Mekas films it falling in New York, while Geurín crunches across it to Henry David Thoreau's hut beside Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

Films often send us to books, which often send us back to films again. As soon as I got home from the LFF screening of the Mekas/Geurín film, I dusted down my slightly foxed copy of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. I dipped into it throughout the festival. My re-reading of Thoreau increased my determination to see, not only Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, two films that speak to us from times when idealism had cynicism on the run. It also drew me to  Robert Guédiguian's fiction feature, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Benito Zambrano's The Sleeping Voice, Nobuhiro Yamashita's My Back Page, and Kate Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega's documentary, Better This World – which I will refer to in passing below. These four films explore, albeit in very different ways, political circumstances in which idealism collides with cynicism, and, generally, comes off worse.

Civil Disobedience and The Price of My Soul

Civil Disobedience has been a bible for democrats, dissidents, radicals and revolutionaries ever since its publication in 1849. It was read by everyone from the Wobblies, through the Suffragettes, to Danish resistance fighters. It was used as a moral guide by those who resisted US involvement in the Vietnam War. Ghandi and Martin Luther King revered it. Thoreau's essay was written as an angry response to slavery and to the US government's unjust war in Mexico, which he saw for what it was, a means to extend the slave-holding lands of the South. Likening government to a machine, Thoreau suggests that, when it acts unjustly, we have a moral duty to resist it. He argued that nobody should surrender their conscience to the state and that citizens should refuse to allow themselves to become passive agents of injustice. Thoreau's argument was reprised by civil rights activist Mario Savio in his famous 1963 speech, delivered at the height of the Berkley Free Speech Movement: "There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, can't even tacitly take part . . . and you've got to make it stop." In their determination to defend their communities, by any means necessary but primarily by practical politics applied locally, Bernadette Devlin and the Black Panthers put their lives on the line, and their bodies upon the gears, wheels and levers of the machine. Whether you share their politics or not, only those blinded by bigotry would deny the determination and dignity, courage and commitment with which they went about the daunting and dangerous job of opposing racism, as manifest in the Unionist state and the United States respectively.

Shortly after locating Civil Disobedience on my bookshelves, I took down my Pan paperback copy of Bernadette Devlin's The Price of my Soul. As I picked it from the shelf, a yellowed newspaper clipping fluttered to the ground. It was a 1969 Times review of her book by that occasionally perceptive right-wing commentator, Max Hastings, whose own book Ulster 1969: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland, like the one he reviews, makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of that period. In his review, Hasting offers qualified, patronising praise for Devlin: " . . . while extremely bright, highly articulate, and very brave, (Miss Devlin) has never been notable for emotional self-control." He adds: "Despite some of her wilder excesses – and they have been very wild indeed – she is a formidable, forceful personality with a cutting wit." It is for her controlled anger and compassion, her courage and commitment, her organisational flair and militant eloquence, and for her wicked sense of humour too, that she is loved by her supporters and respected by her enemies. Exactly the same could be said of Angela Davis, to whom we shall come later. It is often said that people gets the governments they deserve. It might equally well be said that popular movements nurture the leaders they need. In Martin Luther King, the US Civil Right Movement found such a leader. In Bernadette Devlin, the Irish Civil Rights Movement found a voice to articulate its demands for justice – specifically its call for the repeal of the reactionary Special Powers Act and disbandment of the notorious B-Specials; for a fairer voting system ('one man, one vote'), an end to gerrymanding and the rate-payer franchise; and for fairness in employment and housing for the North's minority Catholic community.

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey is riveting from start to finish. The film, inevitably, draws much of its force from the absorbing personality of the extraordinary woman at its heart – 'The Irish Joan of Arc' herself, who is engaging, eloquent and enlightening throughout, and often very funny. It succeeds, too, because of the skillful way it describes the development of Devlin's political ideals while deftly delineating the sweep of the history she lived through. The political journey of the film's title is both Devlin's and Ireland's. Doolan elucidates some of the most complex and turbulent political events of the late 20th century without burying us in detail. The film cuts back and forth across time but, essentially, deals with 'The Troubles' chronologically, beginning with the first marches of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which drew inspiration from and were modelled on the US civil rights marches, and ending, approximately, with the Hunger Strikes of 1981.

Doolans' documentary might easily have been called The Troubles Mixtape 1969-1981, and Leila Doolan has assembled as incredible a range of archive material as Göran Olsson has for The Black Power Mixtape. Over a 13-year period, she was able to amass some fantastic footage – some taken from the archives of Ireland's public service broadcaster, Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), some from the States, much of it from John Goldschmidt's 1969 documentary, Bernadette Devlin. This archive footage is perfectly placed throughout the film to build a compelling picture of Devlin and those times. It takes us through the series of violent Loyalist attacks on peaceful civil rights marches; the defence of the Bogside area of Derry against RUC and Loyalist invasion; the subsequent deployment of British troops; the massacre of Bloody Sunday; the campaign against internment; the 'blanket' and 'dirty' protests; and the H-Block Hunger Strikes. Bernadette Devlin was involved in or around all these extraordinary events.

Bernadette Devlin

A cursory review of the film on The Guardian's Women's Blog sits beneath the header: "A new film asks: 'Where is Bernadette Devlin?'" For many the film might equally answer the question, 'Who is Bernadette Devlin?' There follows a glance through her remarkable life by way of response to those asking that question. Born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Bernadette Devlin grew up in a poor but supportive family from whom she inherited a strong Irish Republican spirit. At grammar school she won first prize in a talent competition, reciting from Padraig Pearce's poem The Rebel: "I say to my people's masters: Beware! Beware of the risen people, who will take what you would not give . . . We will try it out with you, you who have harried and held, you who have bullied and bribed – tyrants, hypocrites, liars." While still a psychology student at Queens University, Belfast, she was further politicized on NICRA marches. She helped establish People's Democracy, the radical student protest group, feeling that she had been born in an unjust society and was not prepared to grow old in one. Despite being the antithesis of the calculating machine politician, she became the youngest woman ever elected to parliament in 1969. She was just 21 when she won the Mid Ulster by-election as an Independent Unity candidate. Within an hour of taking her seat in the Commons, on her 22nd birthday, she delivered one of the most powerful maiden speeches ever witnessed in Westminster. Home Secretary James Callaghan called it "brilliant," Tory MP Norman St John Stevens, called it "electrifying," while Bill Clinton, listening to it in the States, immediately decided to dedicate his life to politics. Despite this consummate parliamentary performance and enthusiastic welcome, she never felt at ease in Westminster. Her heart and soul were back home, with the Irish people, often literally. Shortly after her re-election to Parliament in 1970, she spent six months in Armagh jail for her part in the Battle of the Bogside, and, in 1972, she returned to Ireland after being banned from the Commons for six months. She had punched new Tory Home Secretary Reginald Maudling, angered by his false claims that the British troops who shot dead 13 unarmed civil rights protestors on Bloody Sunday were acting in self-defence.

©victorpatterson.com

A staunch feminist and socialist, Bernadette Devlin has always fought for economic justice, for Protestants and Catholics alike.  She has consistently steering a middle course between sectarian nationalism and abstentionist Republicanism. It is a rare example of her occupying the centre ground. In 1974, she co-founded the Irish Republican Socialist Party with Seamus Costello, their aim being to take forward James Connolly's legacy. For a while the party had considerable support in the nationalist community, with parts of Derry being nicknamed "The Planet of the IRSPs." In an RTÉ interview immediately after her by-election victory, she quoted Connolly's dictum, "For Ireland I care little, for the Irish People I would give my life." She nearly did give her life for them. In 1981, she was shot seven times, as her children looked on, in an assassination attempt by Loyalist paramilitaries, this despite the 'protection' of British soldiers from The Parachute Regiment. Although she withdrew from public life thereafter, she remains politically active, as Chair of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, a network of community groups and grass roots campaigns.

The Roaring Girl

It is both ironic and appropriate that Bernadette Devlin was born on 23 April; ironic because that is, of
course, St George's Day in England, appropriate because it is also the date of the Easter Rising of 1916. There are many aspects of her life that read like an unlikely film script. Given that Spike Lee gave us a largely unvarnished life of Malcolm X and Steve McQueen put Bobby Sands on screen in Hunger, it is, perhaps, no surprise that a fiction feature film, with the working title, The Roaring Girl, is, I was told, "currently in development." Sally Hawkins of Happy-Go-Lucky fame has been cast as Bernadette Devlin, who says of the proposed film, which her lawyers are contesting: "The whole concept is abhorrent to me. How dare they make a pretend life for me while I'm still living the real one?"
In contrast, Leila Doolan received the real Devlin's warm approval for the film, after offering assurances that it would be about its subject's political not private life. It is also ironic then that, despite Doolan's serious-minded decision to place politics before personalities, the film's most significant strength might be that it incidentally reveals the person behind the political firebrand. As we watch her, relaxed at home, chatting in a comfy armchair, a seldom seen side of Bernadette Devlin emerges: the warm, witty woman, proud yet far from arrogant, concerned for her children, happy with her health. Given the tendency of the establishment to demonise those who have the guts to challenge it, the film's lasting legacy might be to present a Republican in the round and remind viewers that radical politics arises from warm hearts. It is what Bertrand Russell implied when he described the difference between George Orwell and Jonathan Swift: "Orwell hated the enemies of those whom he loved, whereas Swift could only love (and that faintly) the enemies of those whom he hated."

Leila Doolan and Raidió Teilifís Éireann

When I spoke to her at the LFF, Leila Doolan said: "I suppose my determination to make this film dates back to my time at RTÉ. I'd always intended to begin with the emergence of civil rights in the North, and Bernadette's early engagement. I was working on current affairs programming when she arrived on the scene and I remember thinking, 'Who is this amazing, eloquent woman'?  When the peace process began I returned to the idea, because Bernadette was being almost erased from history. When I saw Bono holding up the arms of John Hulme and David Trimble I thought, 'Where's Bernadette? She's still active in politics, she should still be at the centre of things'. The film's taken me 13 years to make but it's been worth it. I hope it gives people, young people in particular, courage and hope." As miscarriages of justice such as the framing of the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, and the Birmingham Six recedes from public memory, and as the Saville inquiry finally corrects the injustice done to the victims of Bloody Sunday, Leila Doolan has gone some way to correcting another historic injustice; that which has seen Bernadette Devlin marginalised at the same time as Ian Paisley has been elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Paisley of Bannside.

The result of Doolan's painstaking research, patience and perseverance, Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey is built not only around the archive footage but also numerous conversations between her and Bernadette Devlin conducted over a decade. Leila Doolan is yet another formidable woman. A significant figure in Irish moving image culture, she is widely respected for her work as Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, Chair of the Irish Film Board, founder of the Galway Film Festival and Cinemobile (which takes cinema into rural areas), and onetime producer and director for RTÉ. Doolan and several colleagues resigned from RTÉ in 1969, after a battle over the way the station was run and an attempt to wrestle control from self-perpetuating elites. She subsequently co-authored a book, brilliantly titled Sit Down and Be Counted, that elaborates on Raymond Williams' argument that TV is complicit in the dilution of democratic life and substitutes an engaged public with an amorphous, alienated 'mass' audience, for whom homogenized programmes are then duly made. Doolan, et al argued for experiment, imagination, risk, decentralization and diversity, saying of the RTÉ's dumbed-down, mass-market programming: "This is not popular culture, it is popular conditioning." It is a debate she believes to be ongoing in the countdown to RTÉ's 50th anniversary. Doolan's struggle against false populism in the cultural sphere mirrors Devlin's opposition to it within the political one, so, it is unsurprising that the conversations between these two tough cookies produced such riveting results.

The IRA and Pier Paolo Pasolini

If I have criticisms of this important film it is that it elides the pre-history of the Civil Rights Movement and might have done more to clarify common confusions about Irish Republicanism; most pertinently, it might have gone further to counteract portrayals of Devlin and the Republican movement as militaristic. It is often forgotten that the IRA were committed to non-violent direct action and non-sectarian politics until the Troubles began. As early as 1962, the newly appointed IRA Chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding, made it clear that, with the Border Campaign at an end, the way forward was a revivification of James Connolly's brand of Republican Socialism, and adoption of Roy Johnstone's 'National Liberation Strategy' as a means of uniting the Catholic and Protestant working classes. In a flourish of rhetoric worthy of his boyhood pal Brendan Behan, Goulding described the physical force strategy as, " . . . an instance of putting the cart before the horse, absolutely unique in its imbecility, and unparalleled in the history of the world." Under Goulding's leadership the IRA had focused its energies on practical civil and class politics, supporting local actions such as housing occupations, strikes, sit-ins and 'fish-ins' in waters belonging to British landowners. Goulding's IRA were also instrumental in the establishment of the NICRA in 1967, drawing support from both communities. It is worth recalling that this was not long after Ian Paisley had founded the Protestant Unionist Party and as Paisleyites were branding Terence O'Neill an "Ally of Popery" and gathering to demand that Stormont "Keep Ulster Protestant."

It was escalating Loyalist and RUC violence against civil rights marches and the embattled Catholic ghettos of the North that shifted the argument in favour of physical-force Republicanism. Bloody Sunday was to provide another massive recruitment boost to the newly established Provisional IRA. In their recently published book, The Long Revolution, Brian Hanley and Scott Millar tell an amusing anecdote that highlights the Republican Movement's shift from democratic, grassroots politics to the armed struggle: after Seán Mac Stíofáin had lead a splinter group in forming the Provisional Army Council, Roy Johnstone urged him to watch the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini (presumably with The Hawks and the Sparrows in mind) as proof that Catholicism and Socialism could co-exist to productive political ends. Needless to say, Mac Stíofáin was having none of it and the Provos moved, right away, into a sectarian cul-de-sac, while gamely taking on the British state at what it knows best, war. Of course, the film would have needed to extend beyond its standard-issue 90-minute running time to cover any of these questions, and I found myself, against myself, nodding agreement when Leila Doolan told me: "An earlier entry point might be right for historians, but, after many rough-cuts, this structure and length seemed to fit the story best. I wasn't held to a particular length. I just felt this held attention." It does. As I watched the film, its compact form and pacy, punchy delivery temporarily overwhelmed my preference for hours-long documentaries that dig deep and leave no stone unturned.

 

PART 2 >>

 


 

* Len Lye's experimental short Free Radicals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGyVYDseGc4

** The opening sequence from The Hour of the Furnaces: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BoBcj24-JI

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey
Ireland 2011
88 mins
director
Lelia Doolan
UK premiere
15 October 2011 (London Film Festival)
article posted
9 December 2011

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Sweden 2011
100 mins
director
Göran Olsson
producer
Annika Rogell

editing

Hanna Lejonqvist
Göran Olsson
with
Erykah Badu
Harry Belafonte
Stokely Carmichael
Kathleen Cleaver
Angela Davis
Danny Glover
Talib Kweli
Bobby Seale
Ahmir-Khalib Thompson
UK premiere
14 October 2011 (London Film Festival)
article posted
9 December 2011

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