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Black Audio Film Collective (1982-98)

Film Collective

Main image of Black Audio Film Collective (1982-98)

The Black Audio Film Collective was formed in Hackney, London in 1982 by John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Edward George, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, David Lawson and Trevor Mathison. It was one among many such collectives founded in Britain during the early- to mid- 1980s - including Sankofa, Ceddo and ReTake. This period was characterised on the one hand by the founding of Channel Four and the ACCT Workshop Declaration (both 1982), which encouraged innovative independent work, and on the other hand by the increasingly free market ideology of Thatcherism. The Collective was at the forefront of debates about the politics of representation: their work argues that '"their racial identities grow out of their social and political histories; they call for a recognition that these racial differences are multiple and complex... they interrogate their own images to confirm their histories" (Jackson and Rasenberger, p. 24).

After producing some tape-slide experiments (Signs of Empire (1984), Images of Nationality (1984)), the Collective produced some of the most challenging and experimental documentaries in Britain in the 1980s. Handsworth Songs (1986) has been critically acclaimed for its political commitment and formal experimentation. The film's representation of Black history refracted through the civil disturbances of the 1980s was influential because it engaged with precisely how a group can be marginalised by the practices and ideology of mainstream media. The themes of diaspora, memory and political struggle are also evident in Testament (1988), a film about an exiled Ghanaian politician who returns to Ghana two decades after the 1966 coup. Twilight City (1989) explores London as a symbolic as well as a civic space, representing ideals of affluence and the hope of a new beginning, and contrasting it with the reality of the harsh welcome afforded many Black migrants.

The Collective's work in the 1990s was characterised by the same experimental interest in memory and history. Who Needs a Heart (1991) explores the emergence of Black Power in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. They also tackled the iconic figures of Malcolm X (Seven Songs for Malcolm X, 1993) and Martin Luther King (Dr Martin Luther King - Days of Hope, 1997). Both these films epitomise the critical - yet celebratory - attitude that the Collective has taken to all its subjects. According to Akomfrah, the former film attempts to look at the '"significant silences'" in Malcolm X's autobiography, such as his Caribbean mother, and his ambivalent relationship to America: "[we were attempting] to sneak a few of these ghosts into the back door"(Akomfrah (a), p.3).

The Collective dissolved in 1998, though its members - most notably Akomfrah - continue to work individually.

Akomfrah, John (a), 'Sneaking Ghosts Through the Back Door', Black Film Bulletin, Spring 1993, p. 3
Akomfrah, John (b), 'Wishful Filming', Black Film Bulletin, Summer 1993), p. 14
Fyle, Chenaii A, 'Black Cinema in Britain: What way forward?' [interview with David Lawson], Artrage, September 1994, pp. 38-9
Jackson, Lynne and Jean Rasenberger, 'Young, British and Black', Cineaste 16:4, 1988, pp. 24-5

Paul Ward, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Handsworth Songs (1986)Handsworth Songs (1986)

Experimental documentary exploring race and social unrest in '80s Britain

Thumbnail image of Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)

The life and legacy of the assassinated African-American political leader

Thumbnail image of Who Needs A Heart (1991)Who Needs A Heart (1991)

Challenging dramatised documentary about Britain's Black Power movement

Thumbnail image of Touch of the Tar Brush, A (1991)Touch of the Tar Brush, A (1991)

Exploring Englishness through the eyes of mixed-race people in Liverpool

Thumbnail image of Twilight City (1989)Twilight City (1989)

Experimental documentary about a fractured mother-daughter relationship

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Black British FilmBlack British Film

Pride, pressure and rage

Thumbnail image of Black PioneersBlack Pioneers

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Thumbnail image of Political FilmPolitical Film

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Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Akomfrah, John (1957-)Akomfrah, John (1957-)

Director, Writer