Never Stop Filming

Cinema Politica Screens Docs About 2011 London Riots, First Nations and More

Photo by Sai Photography

For Oxford law graduate and impromptu filmmaker Fahim Alam, the last few years have been a hellish ride.

A few days after the tragic death of English protester Mark Duggan at the hands of police in August 2011, Alam was walking to his grandmother’s place from work through his hometown of Hackney, England.

Roaming the streets of Hackney wouldn’t be such a daring feat on an ordinary day, but during the harrowing weeks of the London riots, few areas in East London were genuinely safe, and Alam found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Alam, along with thousands of others that week, ended up wrongfully thrown into prison after a skirmish with police, accused of hurling bricks at officers. Following his release, the young university graduate was then electronically monitored for six months, adhering to strict curfews while awaiting trial.

Alam’s reaction to his unjustified imprisonment wasn’t to get angry, however—it was to get constructive. Without any prior film or media knowledge, he picked up a camera and began documenting the London riots on the streets.

His documentary, Voiceover: Riots Reframed, is the result of his guerrilla tactics, trying to reclaim the viewpoint of the protesters from the mainstream media who made them out to be monsters.

The feature-length film is being screened all over England and recently made its Canadian debut at Concordia University through non-profit organization Cinema Politica, which primarily screens independent political films.

The documentary isn’t aimed at any particular audience.

“The film is simpler than many other documentaries. Any age or social group could understand and gain knowledge from it,” Alam said, while pointing out the importance of history and context in these situations.

“Tottenham’s riot history goes back to the mid-‘80s after the death of Cynthia Jarrett.”

Jarrett was a 49-year-old African-Caribbean woman who died of a heart attack while police officers were searching her home for possible items her son may have stolen.

The following day saw black youth take to the streets, condemning the police as being institutionally racist.

For Alam, it seems little has changed over a quarter-century later.

Anyone capable of sifting through the 168 pages of the recently updated “Ministry of Justice: Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System” can plainly see that there are major disparities between the number of arrests and convictions between members of the “white” and “ethnic” communities in the UK.

Although the document states that “differences [between ethnic groups in the Criminal Justice System] should not be equated with discrimination,” it’s hard to set those suspicions aside in light of London’s history where racism is concerned.

Alam was determined to showcase mainstream media’s bias through his own lenses.

“Crime may happen on someone else’s doorstep, but no one gives it much consideration until it reaches the ‘High Streets.’ These days the public receives a very sanitized and segregated version of crime and war from the media,” he said.

Alam explained how omissions could be just as important as what is being portrayed. But could this possibly change anytime soon?

“New narratives need to emerge focusing on a new form of propaganda,” he said. “It may take years, but I’m building a new political history and getting through to more and more people.”

In regards to charters like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada and the Charter of Values that Quebec is trying to introduce, Alam is hesitant in accepting such measures.

“I believe discrimination will happen regardless of such charters, but what’s more important is to take a look at the colonial past of Quebec and Canada. History breeds these outcomes,” he said.

Cinema Politica Upcoming Documentaries

The Beginning & Taksim: Gezi Park and the Uprising in Turkey
Monday, Jan. 27
7 p.m.
D.B. Clarke Theatre
Free admission (donations accepted)
These two short Turkish films show rioters’ perspectives during the summer 2013 rebellion and occupation of Gezi Park. The Beginning was heavily censored during production and their studio was raided during editing, but it became Turkey’s best-selling film even though theatres wouldn’t show it. Taksim tells the same story, and is part of a series on global uprisings. Special guests will be in attendance at the screenings.

Valentine Road
Monday, Feb. 3
7 p.m.
D.B. Clarke Theatre
Free admission (donations accepted)
This film tells the story of Lawrence “Larry” King, a 15-year-old biracial, queer student who was murdered at the hands of his white, 14-year-old crush in 2008. Their quiet community of Oxnard, California is torn apart by the crime. Valentine Road delves past the sensational headlines to examine the true story of hate crimes, accountability and the repercussions of victim-blaming. Featuring a virtual Q&A with director Marta Cunningham following the screening.

Honour Your Word & Seeking Netukulimk
Monday, Feb. 10
7 p.m.
D.B. Clarke Theatre
Free admission (donations accepted)
Honour Your Word is an hour-long documentary that focuses its lens on the Algonquin people of Barriere Lake, who have spearheaded a generations-long movement against the Quebec government for rights to their traditional lands. Seeking Netukulimk is a poetic 21-minute profile of Kerry Prosper, a seasoned fisher and Mi’kmaq elder who teaches his grandchildren how fishing for eels can be a parallel to fighting for treaty rights. Director of both films Martha Stiegman will be in attendance at the screenings.