Thursday 27 April 2017

Made in Brixton: "A Moving Image"

One of the few positives of the current lurch to the right may be that British culture, and the cinema in particular, is obliged to abandon its default position of neutral-nostalgic, roll up its sleeves and engage with the present realities - to fight back, in other words, and serve as the opposition that appears to have gone missing within the political sphere over recent months. A Moving Image, the feature debut of NFTS graduate Shola Amoo, isn't perfect - it's a little formally ragged, and its good intentions aren't always matched by what's finished up on screen - but it's one of the few recent British films one might legitimately label as Godardian, if you were inclined to filter Godard through the work of community activists and groups such as the Black Audio Film Collective. An alternative title for it might be Two or Three Things I Know About Brixton: the narrative throughline concerns a mixed-race filmmaker (Tanya Fear), presumably not so far removed from Amoo himself, returning to the increasingly gentrified (read: white) streets of South London with the aim of making a film on the very subject of gentrification. The protagonist's pre-production prep includes interviews with actual protestors from the Reclaim Brixton movement; we'll also watch Fear picking her way through the aftermath of the 2015 riots that witnessed the window of the local branch of Foxtons estate agents being put through - an especially pointed gesture.

Godard, of course, had the privilege of living and working at a time when a white male creative didn't have to acknowledge his privilege, and could just plough straight into a project as a concerned citizen. Fear's filmmaker, by contrast, has to spend fully half the running time coming to terms with the suggestion she is as much part of the problem as anybody else, as a prodigal daughter with money enough to install herself in a loft conversion. That's one limitation of the film, and Amoo's one overt play for the movie centreground - establishing a love triangle between our heroine and representatives of Brixton's black and white communities - feels a little too schematic to convince. Still, if all the film-within-the-film does is to touch upon a number of relevant social issues, they're there nevertheless: the splits within the Left, and how they might yet be resolved to the betterment of us all, the mounting depression faced by creatives who see all too clearly what's going on in their own backyards, yet feel powerless to effectuate any real or lasting change. Amoo sees salvation (or at least blessed relief) in togetherness, meetings, friendships, dancing - the latter notably less formalised than those soft-shoe shuffles Godard once choreographed, framed instead as one of those spontaneous pleasures the developers will never fully take away from us. It's an unpredictable, stimulating, energised and energising experience - like finding yourself on Coldharbour Lane late on a Friday night, long after all the Prets have shut.

A Moving Image opens at the Ritzy, Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse tomorrow, before touring selected cinemas from May 5.

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