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The Big Stories of Black London

Date posted: 23.03.2011

Initiated and funded by Film London, the Black London’s Film Heritage project is an initiative to unearth and showcase archive film material that documents the lives of the Black population in London through the decades.

Following six months of work trawling through materials from London’s official archives and private collections, curators June Givanni and Imruh Bakari have created Big City Stories – an 80-minute compilation of footage which will be showcased at launch events at the Ritzy Picturehouse this week and the BFI Southbank next month.

Big City Stories includes non-fiction images from the very early years of British cinema coupled with fiction presenting dramatic interpretations of Black London’s stories in the 20th Century. Offering a new and fresh perspective on early Black London life, Big City Stories presents the changing lives and evolving perceptions of Black Londoners as their place became established in the city’s diverse cultural landscape.

The films and footage reveal the shifting and contrasting perceptions about Black citizens at various points in history, from the 1930s to World War II and from the 1950s onward, when areas such as Brixton and Notting Hill gained iconic significance.

In the curated programme, professional works by established directors are intertwined with the personal perspectives and intimate moments captured in home movies. Gems on show include BFI National Archive’s 1911 silent film Cosmopolitan London and the stylist avant-garde drama Death May Be Your Santa Claus. Alongside these are Summer of ’76: Carnival, a BBC fly-on-the-wall portrait of the eventful staging of the Notting Hill Carnival in 1976 and Bohemian Noir, which documents the creative renaissance of Camden Town that took place in the late 1980s.

Black London’s Film Heritage is funded by Film London and the UK Film Council’s Digital Film Archive Fund, supported by National Lottery. The initiative was specifically designed to identify curatorial talent amongst the Black community, as a direct response to the findings of the Black Screen Heritage Conference organised by Film London in August 2009. The conference named the lack of representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) talent in film archive curation as the greatest single barrier to developing a fully diverse screen heritage sector.

In addition, Arts Council research has shown that less than 6% of museum and gallery curators in the London area come from BAME backgrounds, compared with a current BAME population in the city of 29%.

Since 2008, Film London has created and delivered a range of programmes designed to support the development of Black film exhibition in London. These include the Black Film Exhibition Publicity Fund, the New Black Cultural Leadership Programme and New Black exhibition consortium, and the Black Screen Heritage Conference. Black London’s Film Heritage, which is also supported by the BFI and London’s Screen Archives, aims to build on the legacy of these projects.

Screenings of Big City Stories will be taking place at Brixton’s Ritzy Picturehouse on 26 March, as part of the cinema’s centenary celebrations, and at the BFI Southbank on 12 April. The compilation will be available for non-commercial, research and educational use following the launch.

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