MoMA’s New Directors / New Films festival kicks off Wednesday in New York City, and lasts until April 3, once again bringing to light a sometimes esoteric, but usually intriguing selection of movies. Not exactly overflowing in the documentary department, the fest does offer at least one must-see: The Black
Power Mixtape 1967-1975.
The film showed at Sundance this year, and will get distribution in September through Sundance Selects, but if you’re a New Yorker, it’s quite fitting to catch this gem at New Directors when it screens on Saturday. I’ll tell you why: Black
Mixtape is a brilliant work of socially-relevant art about race relations in
the 1960s and 1970s, and about the Black Panther Party’s place in that
tumultuous time. Directed by Swedish documentarian Göran Hugo Olsson,
it takes never before seen interviews (Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis)
shot by Swedish filmmakers from that era, and then integrates a treasure
trove of archival material, creating a mashup, or mixtape as Olsson calls it,
incorporating new interviews, new music and stylish editing. The images themselves are beautiful, and the content is historical, so it’s perfect to see it at see
it at MoMA. Being surrounded by all of that fine, modernist art just puts you in the context for something so thoughtfully curated. (I think Olsson taps into this when he tells me, “The programmers are the best in picking a combination of cutting edge filmmaking and something kind of rare and important, social conscience.”)
Olsson is hip to how square a film by Swedes about black power in America might appear; “I think it’s amusing that the filmmakers may appear naïve,” he says about his predecessors, “The film starts off with a statement ‘Fair skinned, a bit starry-eyed and very Swedish, we disembarked 1972 on this shore.'”
But he manages to create a film that is both self-aware and yet not guilt-ridden; in fact, it’s entirely comfortable with itself, being both cool (the original soundtrack is awesome and original interviews with contemporaries such as Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and John Forte are enlightening) and heart-felt. “To me the film ultimately is about democracy,” Olsson says. “You could agree or disagree with Stokely Carmichael, the Panthers or Angela Davis, but what they did was to put energy into the democratic process. Democracy is a living organism; it has been fed all the time to keep alive.”
I’ll also note that there is another doc playing at New Directors that sounds worth checking out. POV alum Natalia Almada‘s El Velador tells of life and death in Mexico in the age of its awful drug wars, as experienced at a particular cemetery. There’s also Hit So Hard, a portrait of the band Hole’s drummer,
Patty Schemel, which promises yet more footage of Kurt Cobain for those
of us who can never get enough. And, if you can’t make it to a doc, then I’d recommend Cairo 6,7,8, a work of fiction based on true events, which is alarmingly prescient for those who followed recent happenings in Egypt. It tells of three women affected by sexual harassment; expertly acted, shot in a vérité style, the film actually feels like non-fiction, which is all the more to its credit.
Watch the Trailer for The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Independent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.