What Does a Swedish Filmmaker Know About the US Black Power Movement Of The 60’s & 70’s?September 28, 2011
On Demand Weekly's VOD Spotlight highlights stories from the On Demand industry. Chris Claro interviews Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson about THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1968-1975 (IFC Film). Read our review of the film too here.
What Does a Swedish Filmmaker Know About the US Black Power Movement Of The 60's & 70's?
On Demand Weekly’s Chris Claro talks to Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson about a new film produced by Danny Glover and music by Questlove
I was looking in the archives of the Swedish National Broadcasting company for some images from the 60s and 70s and I came across this treasure and I immediately identified that this can be a great film. Then I realized it’s my duty to put this out to an audience, it can’t be lying around here in this basement.
I wanted to have some of the people from the time, like Angela Davis, commenting on her own images. And however great archive material can be, it also could be claustrophobic in a cinematic sense, if you kept it in this time and space. I wanted to add some fresh oxygen into that, so I wanted some contemporary voices to comment on the film and I also wanted to put the events in context. I was inspired by commentary tracks on DVD, when someone is talking about a film while watching it. I didn’t want to have any talking heads, looking back. I wanted to have a different flow to the film.
THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
Once I found the material, I think I got the idea pretty early on that the key events in the film, the speech with Stokely Carmichael and the interview with Angela Davis in jail. And I wanted to lay out the idea that we have this sparking black and white and everybody in sharp suits and it’s ’67. Then we have the 70s, and it’s color and the hairdos and everything. So there was a story between those two things. And once I got that, I did receive quite a bit of support from Sweden and then I realized I needed someone who knows this as a co-producer and I basically got to New York and knocked on the door of Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes, my co-producer, and I showed them some footage. When they saw the material and we talked about it, they were in.
I have memories of Angela Davis. She was on television in Sweden and I have images of the end of the Vietnam War. The turning point in my life, I was 11 or 12 and I got back from school and there was the Soweto uprising in Johannesburg. And we spent time every year collecting money for the ANC, which is closely connected to the Black Power movement.
REACTION OF THE SWEDISH PRESS
I think that Sweden is diverse and divided on this issue, because we had a tremendous push of American culture and American industry. On the other hand, we had the Vietnam War and the young people reacting to the fact that America was changing from a former colony to something that was shaping up like an empire. I also think the establishment connected to the civil rights movement from when Dr. King received the Nobel prize in ’64. This was in the middle of the Cold War and we were in between the Soviet Union and the States, so there were diverse feelings towards America.
WERE AMERICAN ANARCHISTS MORE ACCEPTED IN SWEDEN THAN THEY WERE IN THEIR HOME COUNTRY?
We were very Leftist at the time, so documentary filmmakers and journalists coming from Sweden didn’t have a problem with these people being Socialist or whatever. That was not a problem. Swedes had a problem not with violence, but with guns, you know? We saw policemen carrying shotguns and the gun culture of America was a problem for all Swedes.
ON THE MUSIC
Amir Questlove did the soundtrack and it’s very much about connecting to history through contemporary music. The film opens with Michael Jackson’s version of “Rockin’ Robin” and that was actually on that footage as it was broadcast in the 70s. And then we have “Soul Makoussa,” which was also originally on the footage as it was broadcast. We had a Don McLean song, “Vincent,” which we couldn’t clear, which was a pity because I learned that that was Tupac’s favorite song, so it connected in a way.
DID THE PERCEIVED HATRED OF THE US ACTUALLY EXIST?
Yeah. President Nixon was paranoid, you know? So he and others were annoyed by this small country inviting all the troublemakers to Sweden and putting them on television. The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Sweden because of how the Swedes were reacting to the war in Vietnam. It was a real issue.
WHERE WILL THE FILM PLAY?
It will play in about 25 cities in America and then we’ll have community screenings, but my goal all the time was to talk this material, put it in something that could be in libraries in schools and universities all over America. People are interested in this time and they read the books and I think if you see the interview with Angela Davis, for instance, it’s easier to read her books because you understand her principal ideas and you’re going to feel for her, so I think the film is a good companion to her books.
WILL THERE BE MORE MATERIAL ON THE DVD?
Yes. My problem with doing this film was that I had to exclude some material that I think was important but I couldn’t fit in, so it will be on the DVD. For example, the Shirley Chisholm campaign in 1972, the same year Angela Davis was on trial. Chisholm connected to the hip-hop world as well because a lot of hip-hop artists mention Shirley Chisholm, so I feel bad about not having that in the film,
I really respect the people in this film, and I really respect the people who made this film, and I really did try to edit the film so that you can see that it was respectfully done. I did really try to pay respect to both the people in the image and behind the camera.
Chris Claro is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. He is a former Director of Promotion for Sundance Channel and now works as a writer, producer, and media educator. He is a regular contributor to dvdverdict.com and contributor to the Eyes and Ears section of huffingtonpost.com
Look for THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1968-1975 (IFC Films) under your cable system's Movie On Demand section.
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