Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr. talks to film-maker George Amponsah about the challenges of making his latest documentary 'The Fighting Spirit,' the inspirations that led him into a career in film, and the potential film-makers of African descent have to alter the aesthetics of documentary making on the continent.
Quite Storm is a very ambitious film. Give us a brief synopsis of it and your motivations behind making it?
is a film about four black men on a mission to correct some of the political and economic injustices affecting African people. To do this, they go after corrupt African leaders and their powerful western patrons who have misappropriated Africa’s wealth and in so doing, have sentenced her people to lives of misery.
, for me, was a film that showed us taking active steps to resolve some of the problems affecting our people. It placed four black men on an equal intellectual and political footing with our oppressors. The lead characters indicted, judged and executed those who, in their view, were responsible for committing genocide on our people. Secondly, we wanted to use the film to raise funds for some organisations that were taking pro-active steps to resolving some of the problems that affect our people.
It was touted as the first independent black feature film; does that claim hold true?
was promoted as the UK’S first black major action thriller independent feature film. Considering the fact that we had a cast of 148 speaking actors and an, additional 100 extras shot in over 52 locations, scenes with helicopter crashes and extended CGI work, and all totally independently black-funded, I would probably say yes. We have not misrepresented the film in claiming that is was the first independent black feature film.
To sustain one’s independence is extremely difficult, especially if you do not have effective distribution outlets; is this particularly true for black independents?
Yes. Especially so with black independents because you are dealing with organisations and institutions that have a die-hard interest in making sure that what happened with the proliferation of the music industry that saw a lot of black independent labels flooding in and near taking over does not happen in film and television
What were the biggest obstacles you faced?
Trying to exhibit the film in cinemas.
How has the film been received, in particular by the black audiences at which it was aimed?
I would say that 98% of the audience that saw the film got it. And usually applauded at the end of every screening. However, because Quiet Storm
was also a film that challenged black leaders to take actions and steps beyond the regular rhetorical jargons and copycat speeches, there have been those who feel particularly offended, and my advice to those individuals has always been, “If the hat fits then you need to check yourself.”
What support is out there for black independents like yourself?
None but self-determination and the good will and assistance of a very, very few good brothers and sisters.
Your name has been linked to the fiasco which embroiled Lee Jasper, the advisor to the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and resulted in his resignation; do you care to shed any light on the matter?
I know little or nothing about Lee Jasper as a public servant or private individual and that is why, when some media organisation approached us and offered us money to get involved in divisive plots, we said ‘No comments,’ especially after realising that the media’s intentions were not at all about Lee Jasper, but about getting rid of one of the first mayors to publicly apologize for the enslavement of African people, invest heavily in social and economic welfare programs that benefited and was supposed to benefit a lot more in the black community, especially black youths, and raised the international status of London as a truly diverse city
So then how do you feel now that Ken Livingstone has also lost his job? Do you believe that this was the real aim of The Evening Standard – to attack Lee Jasper in an attempt to discredit the Mayor?
Yes, I believe that the real aim of The Evening Standard
campaign had little or nothing to do with Jasper or any individual or organizations that might have exploited blockable loopholes in the system. I am sure that Londoners will wake up tomorrow or six months from now and realise that they have vented an unjustified anger at one of its best and more honest visionary politicians. Get past the sound bites attributed to me in The Evening Standard
story and you will quickly realise that the basis of all of my comments to Andrew Gilligan were about the progressive intentions of Ken Livingstone’s youth initiatives in the black community and my fear that one unscrupulous individual (no mention at all of Lee Jasper) might undo that for his selfish intentions to call a wonderful equal equity program into disrepute.
What are you up to now and where do you see the future of black independent film-making in Britain?
Total self-determination and development on both ends.
Quiet Storm can be purchased from www.abenifoundation.org
1st May 2008