To coincide with the UK premiere of Concerning Violence, from Swedish director Göran Olsson, at Sheffield Doc/Fest, we've got an exclusive extract from the film.
In 1961, shortly before his death by leukaemia, the Martiniquais theorist Frantz Fanon published his last and most incendiary book, 'The Wretched of the Earth'. A scathing psychopathological critique of colonialism, it suggested, in short, that if social contracts were broken by colonisers – as they had been, through immense and insufferable cruelty – the colonised were also released from the bonds of that contract. Violence, in Fanon’s view, was not only inevitable in these situations, but also important: A mode of articulation, and the best available tool for social change.
Concerning Violence is the superb new essay film from Göran Olsson (The Black Power Mixtape). It pairs quotes from Fanon’s magnum opus – read by The Fugees’ Lauryn Hill – with footage of the African liberation movements of the 60s and 70s, as shot (and promptly [and presumably] permanently archived) by Swedish journalists present at the time. And to great effect.
It’s impossible to watch Concerning Violence without referring back to Olsson’s last film, The Black Power Mixtape, or indeed, seeing them as continuous. Part of the same project; the same body of work. Where Mixtape concentrated on key scenes from America’s black power movement – showing in great detail the articulate and moving arguments at play – Concerning Violence establishes a kind of backdrop to those political actions. Fanon’s is the theoretical text that legitimised those later movements, that sanctioned them, and there is no question that his writing had a profound effect on shaping the policies of Black Power – most especially Malcolm X’s – while it was in its infancy.
But this is to say a lot about the historical context of the movements, and nothing of the film itself, and a filmmaker who has in the intervening five years since Black Power Mix Tape honed his craft to a fine and deadly point. Concerning Violence is virtuoso in the sparsity of its edit. Scenes are, at times, abstract – as in the opening sequence, where European troops coolly machinegun Zebu cattle from the window of a helicopter – but they are consistently powerful. It's a film that relies on the power of the image, and understands that these images can contain more violence, more threat, more disquieting gravity than even the strongest statements or interviews.
And then there's the juxtaposition, used with no little expertise to underscore the widening gulf between coloniser and colonised. Young boys shining white soldiers’ shoes; caddies, waiting patiently behind white golfers; African revolutionaries moving silently through the forest; colonial troops enjoying cola in deck chairs; the horrific and human consequences of war, embodied in a young mother and child, both missing limbs.
Concerning Violence elicits in its viewers a similar sense of unease as did The Act of Killing last year, and is every bit its equal in terms of importance and craft. Where Oppenheimer’s film on unrepentant war criminals forces us to consider whether guilt is an emotion dictated entirely by the disapproval or approval of society at large, Olsson reveals the mechanics and methodology of colonial repression in a way so unremitting and unrelenting that one cannot help but leave the theatre appalled, upset and apologetic. Rather than asking questions about shame in the abstract, it holds (the majority of) its audience directly culpable for the horror it so skilfully recalls. I do not think it is premature to call Concerning Violence the documentary of the year, and certainly not too premature to say that it is among the most important films on this subject yet made.
'Concerning Violence' will be released in late 2014 and distributed by Dogwoof films.