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W H I T E N O I S E
Rubika Shah’s debut documents the shortlived yet immensely inﬂ uential grassroots movement Rock Against Racism. Claire Sawers catches up
with the director to discuss how solidarity and positivity shone through in
an era that was often depressing and scary
‘Our job was to peel away the Union Jack and reveal the swastika,’ says Red Saunders, founder of Rock Against Racism (RAR). White Riot, a new documentary by Rubika Shah, charts the rise of the mighty grassroots cultural campaign and protest movement that began in London in 1976 and went on to organise 500 gigs over six years. Shah’s ﬁ lm follows RAR over two years until the ﬁ rst Carnival Against Racism, a DIY event where 100,000 people marched from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park for a concert featuring the Clash, Tom Robinson, Steel Pulse and X-Ray Spex.
‘The atmosphere was really dark and hard,’ remembers Saunders, describing the sinister backdrop that prompted him to set up RAR: social service cuts, racist scapegoating in the right-wing press and a surge of interest in the National Front, who were selling their newspapers outside schools. Run by a team of activists, RAR began organising gigs in East End pubs and sharing tips for DIY gig organisers who wanted to set up other UK nights on a shoestring, ideally without crowds getting injured or PAs being destroyed. They published the fanzine / mini manifesto Temporary Hoarding, with artist interviews and photocopied collages, and sold it for 20p at gigs. ‘We want rebel music, street music,’ wrote radical socialist David Widgery in the ﬁ rst issue. ‘Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music.
34 THE LIST 1 Feb–31 Mar 2020
Music that knows who the real enemy is. Love music, hate racism.’
‘I just couldn’t believe this story hadn’t been told before,’ says Shah, who had made shorts about David Bowie, Spike Lee and Gore Vidal before winning Best Documentary at the London Film Festival last October for this, her ﬁ rst feature-length ﬁ lm. White Riot mixes deeply nasty footage of Enoch Powell speeches with archive images of Siouxsie Sioux wearing a swastika armband, or an ex-Rod Stewart fan declaring his former idol ‘full of shit’ after hearing him say, ‘this country is overcrowded: the immigrants should be sent home’. The documentary also recognises that many punk acts of the time had National Front followers for fans, some of whom were open to having their minds changed while others were not worth reasoning with. Despite chilling stories of ﬁ rebombings, bullets in the post, urine through letterboxes and police brutality during demos, Shah’s ﬁ lm manages to beam out an energising, deﬁ ant and resilient tone. ‘I’m glad that’s coming through because it wasn’t all doom and gloom in that era,’ she says. ‘There was a lot of positivity and people coming together; black, white, Asian, whatever. Solidarity. Which is good for us to remember, 40 years on.’
White Riot, Cineworld, Fri 6 & Sat 7 Mar. White Riot Afterparty with Love Music Hate Racism, The Blue Arrow, Fri 6 Mar.
I N T H E C A N S
Three more ﬁ lms to check out as part of GFF’s Sound and Vision strand which celebrates the bond between music and ﬁ lm
BILLIE A UK premiere for James Erskine’s documentary about the incredible and complex Billie Holiday, made using piles of unheard tapes from the 1970s by an American biographer who died mysteriously (no spoilers) before she could write her book. Cineworld, Sat 7 & Sun 8 Mar.
GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus formed in 1978, a month before the assassination of Harvey Milk. Here they team up with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir for a road trip through the Deep South, spreading messages of tolerance and unity in response to Trump- era anti-LBGT+ laws. Expect songs, personal stories and some drag in David Charles Rodrigues’ ﬁ lm. CCA, Tue 3 & Wed 4 Mar.
I WANT MY MTV Like the channel itself, Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop’s documentary is a fast moving, fun look back on the 1981 launch of MTV featuring interviews with Devo, Pat Benatar, Run- DMC, Twisted Sister and the original VJs, chopped up with many iconic music videos. CCA, Sat 29 Feb & Sun 1 Mar. Festival Club: I Want My MTV Afterparty with MILK DJs, The Blue Arrow, Sat 29 Feb.