Words of wisdom from the team behind London Calling short White Riot: London ahead of its selection at Sundance 2017
Date posted: 20.01.2017
Our annual short film scheme, London Calling, nurtures and champions the capital’s most exciting breakthrough filmmaking talent. So many of the filmmakers involved have gone on to do great things and we’re very happy to announce that punk doc White Riot: London – part of the London Calling 2017 slate – has been nominated in the International Documentary Short Film Selection category at Sundance Film Festival 2017 (19 – 29 January).
The film depicts a youth subculture of late 1970s Britain that rose up to tackle the far-right, racist organisation the National Front. Featuring newly unearthed archive footage, the film features performances from bands of the era, including The Clash. We talked to White Riot: London writer/director Rubika Shah and writer/producer Ed Gibbs to find out about their filmmaking experiences, and what being recognised at the film mecca that is Sundance, means to them.
Tell us a bit about the film: what was the inspiration and why was the subject matter so important to you?
Rubika Shah: I have always been interested in this era of contemporary history and popular culture. I’m particularly drawn to music and arts stories that tap into forgotten or unknown communities. We spent a lot of time researching the late 1970s – specifically, punk, reggae and the music press – and we found this incredible fanzine that helped to shape youth culture. It’s made up of graphics and articles created in this incredible punk, DIY-style.
I also had some knowledge of the National Front, from growing up in the West Midlands – but not about how vicious or violent their actions were. People were being beaten up and murdered in the 1970s for the colour of their skin. Our film is based on words and graphics from the fanzine that tell the story of 1977 – and how, through art and culture, the youth fought back against the National Front.
Where did you find the amazing archive footage?
Ed Gibbs: From all kinds of sources, some obvious, some not – private collections, lost and forgotten newsreels and documentaries, some stock footage, plus an incredible library of stills from photographer Syd Shelton, one of the core team who put the punk fanzine together. Tracking down archive you don’t think exists is one of the most rewarding parts of the process. It’s a treasure hunt – and when you strike gold, it’s an incredible feeling.
Before you made White Riot: London you made another short, Let's Dance: Bowie Down Under. Why are drawn to music documentaries as filmmakers, and why do you think London lends itself to these stories and the emergence of such singular artists, bands and movements?
RS: For me, music and the arts unite people. They are the language of the people. I love stories that shine a light on lesser-known issues through popular culture. Let’s Dance: Bowie Down Under is a portrait of Let’s Dance, David Bowie’s most popular song, but it’s also a film that touches on themes that are particularly important to me – like the power of music to surpass racial divides, and the power of the music video as a means of creative expression, particularly at that point in time. As far as London is concerned, it is a melting pot of cultures, communities and creativity. You can be anonymous or stand out. You can only really do that in cities like London, or New York, or Tokyo.
EG: The documentary space allows for so many great stories to be explored and realised on screen, whether you’re looking at well-known, emerging or unknown creatives and personalities. The music business in Britain is, to a great extent, centred on London – which is why artists tend to converge on the capital from across the UK. This creates an amazing pool of ideas and styles. Of course, there are many unique scenes and sounds from all over the UK.
What does White Riot: London screening at Sundance mean to you?
RS: We are so excited to be going to Sundance with a film in the programme. It is a huge validation of our work, and of the years slogging away as a filmmaker.
EG: I have covered Sundance as a critic, journalist and broadcaster for many years – but to be going as a filmmaker/producer is a thrill and an honour. It means so much to have your work resonate with other people. It confirms your gut instincts were right. Always follow your gut!
How do you think / hope this will affect your filmmaking careers?
RS: Sundance is a great platform to meet the US film industry. We’re hoping to meet with producers, distributors, funders and, of course, other filmmakers to potentially collaborate with in the future. We’re also heading to the Berlinale in February, so we’ll be focused on meeting the European industry there.
How was your experience of London Calling? What were the most valuable things your learned from the process?
EG: The scheme is one of the very few in Britain to support short filmmaking, which makes it invaluable.
If viewers could take away one thing after watching White Riot: London, what would it be?
RS: I would like viewers to take away a slice of what it was like in 1977, especially for people of black and Asian heritage – whilst also connecting it with what’s going on at the moment in Britain.
EG: I hope younger audiences will feel inspired and empowered by the story, to create movements of their own.
What are your future filmmaking plans?
RS: More documentary filmmaking on a variety of subjects.
EG: I have some feature docs in development, as well as other short-form music content. I am also looking to utilise my skill set in the commercial filmmaking space as well. Docs are incredibly rewarding – but the rent has to be paid as well!
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