The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Sundance Selects, NR)

What I’m trying to say here, though, is that their interviews in this film are particularly memorable, with Davis ultimately winning the competition in the end with an extended interview conducted while still in jail awaiting trial in 1972.

 

Though the fact that the new documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is made up of footage found in storage at a Swedish television station that was shot by Swedes and the resulting film made from this footage was also made by Swedes, the easy joke about a movie about black power being made by about the whitest race on the planet turns out to be neither particularly funny nor valid. It’s amazing how much this 40-year-old footage still seems relevant and vital, but also speaks to the viewer as an individual.

More specifically, what we have here is footage shot for Swedish TV of interviews with many of the leaders of the Black Power movement. There isn’t quite enough of that for a feature film, so the interview footage is meted out in between footage of Black America around the same time period (and shot by the same Swedish crew), which has interviews with current prominent black celebrities laid over it: In a graceful move, we never see modern talking-head interviews. We get the visual footage on the classic interviews with people like Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, but when you hear Questlove or Erykah Badu or countless others on the voiceover track, all you see is 40-year-old footage, just like the rest of the time.

The two interviewees who make the strongest impression in The Black Power Mixtape are Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis. Of course, Carmichael and Davis made a strong impression long before the movie on anyone who was paying attention. What I’m trying to say here, though, is that their interviews in this film are particularly memorable, with Davis ultimately winning the competition in the end with an extended interview conducted while still in jail awaiting trial in 1972. This is the type of film that will have you wanting to run to the bookstore on the way home from the theater to pick up some books on the subject, and I’m betting Davis’ extensive catalogue will be the first on most people’s lists.

Beyond just the requisite fascination with what the Black Power movement accomplished and how intelligent, charismatic, driven, and organized its leaders were, The Black Power Mixtape says a lot about the need for perspective when viewing current national events. To see it through a Swedish film crew’s eyes helps you understand both what most Americans were thinking about the subject and what the rest of the world was thinking watching it unfold. A telling scene arises where we find out that Merrill Panitt, then editor of shitrag TV Guide, is critical of the Swedish TV industry’s coverage of the movement, where in hindsight we can see that they got it a lot closer to right than the vast majority of American media outlets.

There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of the film saying that it “doesn’t tell the whole story,” and while that is of course true, director Göran Olsson finds a lot of worthwhile bits in this found footage; it leaves you wanting more both in terms of the film, your education on the movement, and the movement itself. | Pete Timmermann

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