Wednesday 1 May 2019

Black Panthers [1968]

In 1967 Agnès Varda shifted to LA for a couple of years with her husband Jacques Demy. While he was working on a Hollywood project following the smashing international success of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Varda dived into a few independent projects of her own. With the rise of the New Left, and massive associated movements across the country – Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War protests, rise of counterculture, etc. – the US was a hotbed for sociopolitical dissent in the 60s, which was bound to transfix a French Left-wing intellectual like Varda. She therefore hired a 16mm hand-held camera from a U Cal Berkeley student and traveled to Oakland with a small crew to record an electrifying snapshot of a political rally arranged by the Black Panther Party (BPP) to demand the release of Huey Newton, co-founder of the organization and a staunch Marxist-Leninist, arrested for allegedly killing a police officer. The “Free Huey” movement, along with the politically activism of the group – which was vocal in advocating the rights of the oppressed and the subjugated in the US and in turn the world over, and its rousing Afro-cultural consciousness, were marvelously captured in the heady and throbbing short documentary Black Panthers, beautifully shot in grainy colours. While the mesmeric docu Salut Mes Cubains, was formalist too, this was relatively straightforward; however, encapsulating a complex sociopolitical voice and zeitgeist through the “Free Huey” rallies, while still retaining the immediacy, made this too a compelling work, and reminded me of James Baldwin’s No Name in the Street. Ironically, its broadcast on the French television was cancelled at the last moment, fearing that its revolutionary spirit may rekindle the explosive student anger of May’68.

Director: Agnes Varda
Genre: Documentary/Political Film
Language: English
Country: France

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