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Two years after London Film Festival opens with its movie “Widows”British director Steve McQueen returns to be the star of the opening ceremony of the festival this year, which opened today with his new film “Mangrove”, which starts from the climate of the protest movement “Black Lives Matter” that has pervaded the United States of America, but moves it spatially and temporally to portray the struggle of blacks against discrimination And for their civil rights in Britain in the 1970s, this time.
The film is part of a series of five films directed by McQueen and produced by the BBC and will start showing on television next month, and Amazon Prime will display and distribute them in the United States.
The series, which includes five films with separate stories and characters and which McQueen is keen to describe as an anthology of racism and its resistance, is titled “Little Ax” (Little Ax), a title borrowed from the song of reggae music giant Bob Marley, which he in turn borrowed from The Like Who West Africa, in which the slave addresses the master as in the song “If you are the big tree, we are the little ax, which has been sharpened for your cutting, ready to cut you”.
The festival will also screen another film from the same series, “Lovers Rock”, (referring to the musical style known by the same name in reggae music). The two films were to be shown together at the last Cannes Film Festival, but its cancellation due to the outbreak of the Corna virus, made them share The London Film Festival which opened with the movie “Mangrove” and the New York Film Festival which opened with the second film.
Despite the impact of the epidemic in 2020 on the film industry in the world and disrupting the production of many directors, McQueen kept racing against time to complete his five films in this year, which has become his most prolific year in terms of production.
The London Festival wanted to salute this challenge in production despite the circumstances of the outbreak of the virus, and it is the same challenge that the organizers of the festival raised in holding its current session at a time when many festivals held its activities.
This forced them to change many of the traditions of the festival’s display and the platforms for displaying its events, making it a priority for online performances with a limited number of shows in halls that take into account social distancing measures.
Some may see that choosing the opening movie that is part of a series that will be shown on television at the end and on the continuous screening platforms on the Internet, is only part of these changes in the festival’s traditions and a break in the limits of the definition of cinematography by showing in cinemas.
This also coincided with the festival’s devotion to one of its demonstrations for the first time in its history for “virtual reality” and interactive films produced in this way, or what is known as (XR) (Cross Realty), that is, mixed reality resulting from the mixing of realistic environments with virtual ones in which the viewer interacts. With what he sees by blending the real with what is digital provided by modern technology.
The restrictions of the Covid-19 epidemic did not exclude the London Festival from its distinctive feature in reflecting the multiculturalism that characterizes the city that hosts it and the call for equality for women and civil rights for marginalized minorities, which it was keen to confirm in all its previous sessions, so the movie “Mangrove” came to convey the pulse of the street in the continuing demonstrations in The second party from the Atlantic Ocean to the heart of closed cinemas in central London, and extends the resulting review of the history of racism and discrimination, to return to a time point in Britain’s past, which he sees as the basis for the multicultural society that characterizes the metropolis of London in our time.
“It’s a story about: Why are we here. It’s not just a story about the past, it’s about a story,” says McQueen, who was born in West London to immigrant parents from Grenada and has himself become the story of a black man who became at the forefront of Britain’s creative elite and was crowned with the highest honors and the title of Sir. The present also … We look to the past to look at the future, and also to judge: How much we have traveled (from the path). ”
McQueen dedicates his film and all of the films in this series to George Floyd, whose death was caused by the arrest of him by the US police last May, and to all blacks who were killed in the United States, Britain and anywhere in the world because of their being black.
The series revolves around various characters from the West Indies community in London from 1968 to 1985, but the main character in the movie “Mangrove” is the same place, which is a restaurant in Notting Hill, west of London. To the general black community of West Indies ancestry and their struggle to empower their local community within their new larger community.
The restaurant is owned by a person of Caribbean descent named Frank Critchlow (successfully played by actor Sean Parks), a former gambler trying to break with his past and lead a straightforward and committed life in his restaurant, which becomes a gathering place for people of Caribbean origin and a place for their joys and social activities.
However, this place soon becomes vulnerable to district police raids run by a racist anti-black officer named Frank Polley (actor Sam Sproul), who tries to close the place and harass its visitors in various incidents.
In this context, McQueen focuses on police repression and harassment, but neglects that the real restaurant was at some stages a meeting place for a number of celebrities such as Diana Ross, Vanessa Redgrave, Sammy Davis and others, and that its owner himself was one of the main characters behind organizing the Notting Hill Carnival, which is today a landmark. London tourist; They are details that do not serve the plot of his story. But he focused on the entry of the leader of the Black Panther Movement in Britain, Althea Jones Lockwant (actress Tisha Wright) and activist Darkus Howe (actor Malakai Kirby) (both of whom are from Trinidad), and their role in making the case for the defense of Critchlow the case for the defense of the black community In the region.
This mobilization leads to the departure of about 150 people in a demonstration against the district police, where the police blockade them intensely, then clash with the demonstrators and end with arresting a number of them and bringing them to trial.
In the second half of the film, which takes place most of the events inside the courtroom, McQueen adds to his artistic record his ability to successfully manage a movie from (Janara) trial films, which usually take place in a closed place Where he highlights his focus on pilgrims (exchanging defensive arguments) and creating diversity in the performance of actors in their presentation, and based on this that McQueen is an actor with distinction and has a clear training in managing his actors, as proven in his previous films such as: “12 Years of Slavery” 2013, which crowned with three awards Oscar, or his distinguished film “Hunger,” 2008, for which he won the Gold Camera Award for first directorial work in Cannes.
The script, written by McQueen, director and screenwriter Alistair Seddons, moved from actions in its first half to focusing on the dialogue arguments in the courtroom, the Central Criminal Court for England and Wales, known as “Old Bailey”.
The camera of the director of photography, Shabir Krishner, did not skimp on presenting a luxurious introduction to it in showing the architecture of the building with its distinctive Baroque style, which looks more like a cathedral, with its high ceilings adorned with paintings and its spacious spaces in which the main characters seem small and lost in the middle, and he made sure to photograph their entry into it via a drone camera From the top, the paucity of the characters is reflected in front of the enormity of the building.
Here, the dialogue is divided among nine characters, in the center of which is Judge Edward Clark (actor Alex Gennings), with all his aristocratic sobriety and adherence to tradition, and in contrast to the young and enthusiastic defense lawyer Ian MacDonald (actor Jack Luden), who later became one of the main figures pushing the enactment of British laws against discrimination; Which succeeds in disrupting the course of traditional judicial procedures that would have turned the case into a criminal case and made it revolve around racial prejudices, by making some of the defendants come forward to defend themselves.
The two defendants who have come forward to defend themselves here are: activists Luckwant and Howe. (McQueen made sure that actors Wright and Kirby utter a clear accent and a weak tone of voice that reflected a clear human weakness, but in a dialogue that was characterized by strong and influential rational arguments), and they succeeded in gaining the sympathy of the jury and embarrassing witnesses from the police with logical arguments that revealed their prejudice, and their fabrication of some facts.
Take care of marginal detail
Despite what appeared to be biased at first by McQueen to his black revocation, he avoided presenting a caricature of the judge representing the upper-class clinging to tradition, and the judge’s speech in the end became the chapter and the objective conclusion when he indicated that “there is evidence of racial hatred on both sides.” And that coincided with the acquittal of the jury of the accused, in the trial that lasted 11 weeks and was a watershed and important moment in the history of the black community in Britain.
The film is not without clear theoretical references and metaphors, specifically from the Trinidadian social historian, CLR James, who is considered one of the pioneering and influential voices in the context of what later became known as studies of the subordinate and post-colonial theory; The film was full of references and metaphors in his conversations from it, especially from his book “The Black Jacobins”, in which we see the amateur activist in one of the scenes of the film busy reading it; His views were imprinted until the choice of McQueen as the main character in the movie, Critchlow, the ordinary person who becomes a hero in his society when there is a cause on which this community unites and his awareness of his crisis, marginalization and persecution deepens; The act of heroism, according to James, is not a choice of individual freedom but rather is constrained by the necessities and needs of his environment, and McQueen may artistically paint what James sees as the work of a true historian in studying these boundaries and discovering all possible possibilities in them.
McQueen succeeded in presenting distinctive photographic aesthetics conveyed by the camera of the director of photography Krishner, who excelled in focusing on the small and marginal details of the place and pushing them to the center of vision, especially in his portrayal of scenes that take place in closed places.
He also excelled in outdoor scenes, in the first half of the film, in which he used to move from the miserable closed neighborhood scenes, and children playing on the remains of furniture thrown in the street (via a drone camera) to open up to the vast London space, including the juxtaposition and coexistence of different worlds, or In another scene on construction scaffolding in nearby condominiums and new bridges under construction, which seemed to have an allegorical function in the narration of the film.
As well as in filming the scenes of protests and the raging clashes between the demonstrators and the police, which were deepened by using close-up shots of the actors, deepening the feeling of their feelings and emotions in such difficult moments and the depth of McQueen’s use also for a quick montage in its presentation.
He also succeeded in exploiting the musical richness of the Caribbean society through the music developed by the British singer and composer Micah Levy (also known as Mikachu) who exploited the rhythms of pop and reggae and provided a mixture of borrowings from songs and music clips known in the background of the events. McQueen was keen to make music an essential part of his narrative, not just accompanying events, so he mixed music and songs with frequent pictures as a means of time shifting and shortening the time stages of his film narration.