Handsworth Songs

Premiere: Cannes


Single channel 16mm film transferred to video, sound

58 minutes 33 seconds

Director: John Akomfrah

Producer: Lina Gopaul

A film essay on race and civil disorder in 1980s Britain and the inner city riots of 1985, 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 the film is the idea that the riots were the outcome of a protracted suppression by British society of black presence. 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 invoke the idea of documentary as a poetic montage of associations familiar from the British documentary cinema of John Grierson and Humphrey Jennings.

Handsworth Songs won Britain’s most prestigious award for Documentaries the British Film Institute Grierson Award Best Documentary in 1986.