- Black Independent Filmmaking:A Statement by the Black Audio Film Collective
The area of black independent film-making will soon see the growth of a number of workshops established with the specific aim of catering for black film needs. We will also see a growth in the number of films made by members of these workshops. As in any other field of cultural activity and practice such a development calls for collective debate and discussion. Some of the important issues to be raised will be around the relationship between the workshop organisers and participants in the course. The others should obviously be about the nature and structure of the courses themselves.
Prior to this debate, however, is the task of accounting for the specificity of black independent film-making. What, after all, does “black independent film-making” mean when present film culture is a largely white affair? And does this posture of independence presuppose a radical difference of film orientation? If this is the case how does one work with difference?
The Black Audio Film Collective has chosen to take up these issues in a very particular way and this is around the question of the “figuration of identity” in cinema. Our point of entry is around the issue of black representation. The Collective was launched with three principal aims. Firstly, to attempt to look critically at how racist ideas and images of black people are structured and presented as self-evident truths in the cinema. What we are interested in here is how these “self-evident truths” become the conventional pattern through which the black presence in cinema is secured.
Secondly, to develop a “forum” for disseminating available film techniques within the independent tradition and to assess their pertinence for black cinema. In this respect our interests did not only lie in devising how best to make “political” films, but also in taking the politics of representation seriously. Such a strategy could take up a number of issues which include [End Page 58] emphasising both the form and the content of films, using recent theoretical insights in the practice of film-making.
Thirdly, the strategy was to encourage means of extending the boundaries of black film culture. This would mean attempting to de-mystify in our film practice the process of film production; it would also involve collapsing the distinction between “audience” and “producer.” In this ethereal world filmmaker equals active agent and audience equals passive consumers of a predetermined product. We have decided to reject such a view in our practice.
Underlying these aims are a number of assumptions about what we consider the present priorities of independent film-making to be. These assumptions are based on our recognition of certain significant achievements in the analysis of race and the media. It is now widely accepted that the media play a crucial role in the production and reproduction of “common sense assumptions” and we know that race and racist ideologies figure prominently in these assumptions. The point now is to realise the implications of these insights in creating a genuinely collective black film culture.
Such a program is also connected with our awareness of the need to go beyond certain present assumptions about the task of black film-making. We recognise that the history of blacks in films reads a legacy of stereotypes and we take the view that such stereotypes, both in mainstream and independent cinema, should be critically evaluated. This can be connected to a number of things that we want to do. We not only want to examine how black culture is misrepresented in film, but also how its apparent transparency is a “realism” in film. It is an attempt to isolate and render intelligible the images and statements which converge to represent black culture in cinema. The search is not for “the authentic image” but for an understanding of the diverse codes and strategies of representation.
It could be argued that all this is stale water under a decaying bridge and that we know all this stuff already and that black film-makers already accept their responsibility and are aware of these problems. There is a lot of truth in this. Others...