John Akomfrah’s Stuart Hall film to be screened for Black History Month

Movie includes rare historical documentary footage of 1970s icon
Helen Whittle
Hackney News

“There’s a difference between a quaint evocation of the past and an open window looking straight down a stack of decades”, said the great documentary photographer Walker Evans said. To director John Akomfrah’s credit, his latest film, a provocative portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, is very much the latter.

A composition of archival material culled from Hall’s many TV and radio appearances, home movies and rare historical documentary footage, The Stuart Hall Project is an absorbing multi-layered voyage through the turbulent social and political upheavals of the second half of the 20th century out of which the politics of the New Left emerged.

“What’s interesting is how so much of the history of post-war Britain is told by his thought,” Akomfrah says, describing the film as both a biographical study and an essay on identity – the interrogation of which had such a profound impact on Hall’s thinking.

“You know, we live in a society that is so relentlessly obsessed by the present, with the here and now, that actually, we value the importance of the present over the past. The film was in part a way of redressing the balance, sorting through the ghosts of history, if you like, that tell us so much about how we became what we are today.”

Born into a middle-class family of African, Scottish and Portuguese-Jewish descent in colonial Jamaica, Hall describes his origins in the film as “the home of hybridity”. He moved to England as part of the Windrush generation in 1951, just as Britain was nearing the end of its colonial power.

Charting the Suez Crisis, the civil rights movement and the rise of feminism to the Cold War arms race and the Vietnam War, Akomfrah’s film offers an unusually intimate account of the shaping of Hall’s thought, from his days as a bright young Rhodes scholar and co-founder of the New Left Review at Oxford, to his very public presence as one of Britain’s leading intellectuals over the decades.

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