BHM Screening: Big City Stories: Black London's Film Heritage

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Wood Green Central Library,

187-197A High Road

Wood Green


N22 6XD

United Kingdom

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Big City Stories: Black London's Film Heritage
Duration: 82 minutes
Rated: U

The screening of 'Big City Stories' by Black History Studies follows the London's African-Caribbean population through the last century: their changing lives and perceptions as they established their place among London's diverse cultures and communities. The selection includes images of London's Black citizens from the very earliest years of cinema, alongside personal perspectives embodied in home movies, footage of key historical moments and fictional representations of Black London's stories.

The programme draws on a wide range of collections - including the private collections of black filmmakers - to reveal a new narrative about life in an expanding and ever-changing metropolis. It demonstrates the shifting and often contrasting perceptions of various sectors of British society at key moments, such as during WWII and in the post-Windrush 1950s, and in iconic areas for London's black presence, such as Brixton and Notting Hill.

Curated by June Givanni and Imruh Bakari the final selections ranged from 1920s footage of Cosmopolitan London to the recently rediscovered 1970s curio 'Death May Be Your Santa Claus', extracts screen alongside a wide variety of archive footage sourced from across the capital.

This is the full film listing from the Big City Stories Compilation.

Cosmopolitan London

[Dir: Frank Miller, Harry B. Parkinson, 1924]

A rare glimpse of London’s diverse population of the 1920s

Sambo and Two Girls

[1911, BFI Collection: Black Britain]

Catalogued as, “A young black man appears in what may be a dental health film”. It depicts physiological and ethnic difference in a manner typical of its time.

Song of Freedom

[Dir: J. Elder Wills, 1936]

A widely seen ‘30s film featuring Paul Robeson as a London-born docker who becomes a world-famous opera singer; discovers he is the descendant of African royalty; and yearns for life in Africa. Elisabeth Welch plays his wife.

Aunt Esther’s Story

[Dir: Stephen Bourne and Andrew Warrington, 2007]

Story and reminiscences of Esther Bruce, a working-class Black Londoner, born before the First World War.

CLR James & Stuart Hall in Conversation

[Mike Dibb, 1986]

C. L.R. James, historian, Marxist thinker, political commentator, exponent of cricket, and Brixton resident; recalls his first impression on arrival in London in 1932.


[Basil Dearden, 1959] 2

West Indies Calling

[Dir: Paul Rotha, 1944]

A BBC broadcast explaining to the British people the West Indian contribution to the war effort. Features Jamaican broadcaster and writer Una Marson and cricketer Learie Constantine.

Gold Coast Police Band in London

[Colonial Film Unit, Colonial Cinemagazine no.9, 1947]

A newsreel for colonial audiences about the Gold Coast Police Band, from what is now Ghana, in London during their tour of the UK in 1947.

Concrete Garden

[Alrick Riley, 1994]

Typical of many real-life migration stories of the 50s and 60s, a young girl arrives from Jamaica to join her parents and brother.

Jemima and Johnny

[Lionel Ngakane, 1966]

Unaware of a backdrop of agitation by a neo-Fascist group in the Notting Hill area of London that had seen “race riots” and attacks in 1958/59, 2 young children explore their surroundings.

West Indians

[Jack Gold, 1963]

BBC’s Tonight documentary with commentary written and spoken by the Barbadian poet and writer George Lamming, about black life in London.

Ten Bob in Winter

[Lloyd Reckord, 1963]

Jamaican filmmaker, Lloyd Reckord’s comic take on West London street life in the early 1960s.

Baldwin’s Nigger

[Horace Ove, 1969]

American writer James Baldwin and comedian Dick Gregory discuss issues of race with a multiracial gathering at the West Indian Student Centre, Earls Court.

Sydney’s Chair

[Roberto Bangura, 1995]

In a racially charged 1950s East End London, the arrival of American star Sidney Poitier to the neighbourhood to shoot the film ‘To Sir With Love’, encourages a young boy to have pride in his identity.

Death May Be Your Santa Claus

[Frankie Dymon Jr, 1969]

In this experimental film echoing the social revolution of Paris 1968, a black “academic” struggles with his political idealism and with his personal desires.

You in your Small Corner

[Claude Whatham,1962]

Television drama written by Jamaican Barry Reckord and starring his brother Lloyd Reckord. Set in Brixton, class ambitions determine a young Jamaican man’s love choice across the colourline.

London’s Lambeth

[BBC/NDR, 1971]

A story of the redevelopment of the South London borough of Lambeth in the 1970’s where Brixton is situated, and where housing for its black population was an issue.

Clovis Salmon

[Home Videomaker]

Jamaican ‘Sam The Wheels’ has lived in Railton Road since 1959, filming Brixton life including Brixton market and street scenes in the 1970’s and Brixton after the 1981 riots.

Return to Brixton

[The London Programme, ITV 1991]

A decade after the Scarman Report into the Brixton riots of 1981, this special edition of The London Programme examines the enduring issues for the area. Studio guest commentators include Totteham MP Bernie Grant.

Black Joy

[Anthony Simmons, 1977]

Popular comedy film set in Brixton follows a set of characters encountered by a young man just arrived from the Caribbean as he tries to make a life for himself. Features a young Paul Medford and Floella Benjamin & the late Norman Beaton.

You Hide Me

[Kwate Nii Owoo, 1971]

Ghanaian filmmaker Kwate Nii Owoo investigates the African art and artefacts held at the British Museum and makes his case for their return to their place of origin.

Mangrove Nine

[Franco Rosso, 1973]

Defence of Notting Hill’s Mangrove restaurant ended in a trial which made legal history in delivering the first judicial acknowledgment that there was "evidence of racial hatred" in the Metropolitan police force.

Carnival ’76: Notting Hill

[BBC, 1976]

Portrait of the staging of the Notting Hill carnival of 1976: charting its negotiations and preparations its artistic spectacle .....and the disturbances that made the headlines.

Blood Ah Goh Run

[Menelik Shabazz, 1981]

A record of the “Day of Action” organised to voice the anger felt in the wake of the police failure to bring those responsible to justice for the arson attack that killed 14 young black people in New Cross in 1981.

Carnival ’87

[Asher Lee, 1987]

Guyanese Londoner ‘Asher the Video Man’ regularly filmed carnival for over a decade. Here international visitors comment and Alex Pascal forecasts change.

Le Bohemian Noir et la Renaissance Del Afrique

[Amani Naptali, 1990]

In this avant-garde film , Naptali, theatre director, filmmaker and early member of Soul II Soul collective , captures the ‘renaissance moment’ of black creative activity in late 1980s Camden Town.


This event will take place on TUESDAY 25TH OCTOBER 2016 from 7pm to 9pm. Doors open at 6.30pm.

This event will be held at Wood Green Central Library, 187-197A High Road, Wood Green, London N22 6XD. 5 minutes’ walk from Wood Green Station (Piccadilly Line). Buses 29, 67, 121, 123, 141, 144, 184, 221, 230, 232, 243, 329, W3, W4 stop nearby.

Admission will be FREE. Donations are encouraged and gratefully accepted.

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Wood Green Central Library,

187-197A High Road

Wood Green


N22 6XD

United Kingdom

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