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Twilight City (1989)

Courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films

Main image of Twilight City (1989)
Black Audio Film Collective for Channel 4, tx 20/11/1989
52 min, colour/black & white
DirectorReece Auguiste
Production CompanyBlack Audio Film Collective
ProducerAvril Johnson
Commentary WriterEdward George
 John Akomfrah
PhotographyJonathan Collinson
MusicTrevor Mathison

Cast: Homi Bhaba; Andy Coupland; Paul Gilroy; Gail Lewis; Savriti Hensman

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Drama documentary about the city of London, interspersing personal recollections from journalists and academics with a fictional letter from a daughter to her mother in Domenica.

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Black Audio Film Collective followed the success of its first two screen ventures Handsworth Songs (d. John Akomfrah 1986), a film essay about the riots in Birmingham, and its first feature film, Testament (d. Akomfrah, 1988) with another reflection piece, Twilight City. The theme of this docudrama is the physical and social change of London that occurred under ten years of Conservative rule in the 1980s.

A fictional letter from a daughter, Olivia, to her mother in Dominica is the narrative thread connecting interviews from (predominantly) black and Asian cultural critics, historians and journalists. The choice of occupation for the daughter, a researcher, perhaps strains the narrative conceit too far. Nevertheless, for an avowedly political documentary the result is absorbing.

The interviews with respected commentators like Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy and George Shire offer fascinating personal stories that contrast with the polemics with which they are usually associated. In this film their politics are located within their own personal experiences of exile and search for identity.

Like London (d. Patrick Keiller 1993), Twilight City tries to describe the psychic and social landscape of the city; both films have severe criticisms to make of contemporary politics. However, whereas London is a spiritual quest and imagines the viewer and narrator as fellow travellers, Twilight City allows less room for reflection or insight.

Olivia's personal commentary supplies a human connection that the succession of interviews on their own could not, and gives meaning to the empty images of water, traffic or pieces of statues. But the static, straight-to-camera interviews which break up Olivia's voice-over gives the film an irregular rhythm.

What the commentary cannot do is link the very disparate themes raised by the interviewees into a logical sequence. In the end the film throws out topics as various as the malign influence of the Docklands Enterprise Zone and Section 28, the notorious prohibition on material 'promoting homosexuality'; the effects of urban social fragmentation and the history of a 19th Century Laskar community.

Twilight City is one of the few Black Audio Film Collective works not directed by John Akomfrah. Reece Auguiste's other directorial work for BAFC was Mysteries of July (1991), a documentary about the alarming number of deaths in police custody in the UK.

Ann Ogidi

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Video Clips
1. Dial HISTORY (1:50)
2. Listen to their silences (3:50)
3. Love me and don't forget me (4:04)
Akomfrah, John (1957-)
Black Audio Film Collective (1982-98)