Rubika Shah's film, about Rock Against Racism movement of late 1970s, hailed as 'both a provocation and a tremendous opportunity'
The 63rd BFI London Film Festival wrapped on Sunday with the announcement of prizes in multiple categories.
The Grierson Award for best documentary went to White Riot, directed by Rubika Shah, a film about the important role popular music played in the political contest for hearts and minds of British youth in the 1970s.
"Rubika Shah’s energising film charts a vital London protest movement," the BFI London website explains. "Rock Against Racism (RAR) was formed in 1976, prompted by ‘music’s biggest colonialist’ Eric Clapton and his support of racist MP Enoch Powell. White Riot blends fresh interviews with queasy archive footage to recreate a hostile environment of anti-immigrant hysteria and National Front marches. As neo-Nazis recruited the nation’s youth, RAR’s multicultural punk and reggae gigs provided rallying points for resistance. As founder Red Saunders explains: ‘We peeled away the Union Jack to reveal the swastika’."
Rubika Shah has used the power of film to remind us of where we have been and asks how long it will take us to change course.
"X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and of course The Clash" were key bands in the RAR campaign, BFI London notes.
The festival's documentary jury was presided over by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Yance Ford (Strong Island). In a statement, Ford emphasized the relevance of Shah's film to our own times.
"White Riot is both a provocation and a tremendous opportunity. In this moment around the world the film implies that perhaps the lessons of the past were never learned," Ford wrote. “This rhetoric and politics of this moment in our history is familiar. And although language and symbols evolve, their meaning remains. Without nostalgia for 1979, the power ofWhite Riot is that it points directly at 2019."
Ford added, “Rubika Shah has used the power of film to remind us of where we have been and asks how long it will take us to change course.”
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.