Handsworth Songs takes as its point of departure the civil disturbances of September and October 1985 in the Birmingham district of Handsworth and in the urban centres of London. Running throughout Handsworth Songs is the idea that the riots were the outcome of a protracted suppression by British society of black presence.
John Akomfrah, colour, sound, 16mm, 60 mins, 1986
The film portrays civil disorder as an opening onto a secret history of dissatisfaction that is connected to the national drama of industrial decline. The ‘Songs’ of the title do not reference musicality but instead invokes the idea of documentary as a poetic montage of associations familiar from the British documentary cinema of John Grierson and Humphrey Jennings.