Black Audio Film Collective

Black Audio Film Collective
   The London-based Black Audio Film Collective emerged from the shared experience of British art schools, specifically Portsmouth, in the first years of the Thatcher government (1979–90). The Collective’s first work, Expeditions (1983), an innovative and searching tape-slide production on colonial history and its legacies, received widespread critical interest and paved the way for their first major documentary, Handsworth Songs (1986), looking at the uprisings in Birmingham and London, with its slogan ‘there are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of other stories’. Handsworth took the Grierson prize for documentary, and has proved highly influential, despite controversy over its challenge to normative film language. The film had several influential features: a powerful sense of the spoken word as cinematic medium, a refusal to accept that black audiences required simple narration and positive images, and a devotion to the evolution of a new film language for the black experience.
   The follow-up feature, Testament (1988), again directed by John Akomfrah and shot on location in Ghana, analyses in elliptical and poetic frag-ments ‘the war zone of memories’ of post-colonial struggle and the losses of exile. This theme would be reworked with Reece Auguiste in the director’s chair in Twilight City (1989), an allusive, dense vision of London as a city of exile. Inspired by the work of Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall (who have appeared in several of their productions), the collective went on to analyse in Who Needs a Heart (1991) the histories of Black Power in the UK, again in characteristically elliptical form, and again with the disparities and juxtapositions welded into a whole by unique and inventive sound design by Trevor Matthison. The impact of films like Haile Gerima’s Harvest 3000 (1976), and Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982), with their intimations of a film aesthetic as radically renewed as pop music had been by the emergence of hip hop, was transformed in these films, and in the series of television documentaries that have followed, perhaps the most impressive of which is Mothership Connection (a.k.a. The Last Angel of History), a history of science fiction imagery in diasporan music, distinguished by the intensity of its compositions and the dramatic use of digital effects. As with other diasporan film-makers, the current climate has proven inimical to innovation as much as to black culture. The only workshop to have survived the end of the Workshop Declaration, Black Audio Film Collective is one of the major centres of the emergent culture of contemporary Britain.
   See also: diasporan film-makers
   SEAN CUBITT

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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