Sundance Review: Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Made entirely of 16mm footage filmed by Swedish journalists between 1967-1975, Black Power Mixtape is their journey through the culture and figureheads of the Black Power Movement. Left in a basement until now, the footage is absolutely stunning and this is combined with a gorgeous soundtrack provided by Questlove of The Roots.

There are numerous documentaries about this period and the culture, but what makes Black Power Mixtape stand out is just how classy it is. In audio commentary throughout the film, we hear from artists and activists involved in or influenced by the movement. The lack of talking heads keeps you focused on the footage and provides subtle context without attempting to aggressively educate you. It’s an interesting way to feature contributors as it seems that they are commenting while watching the film, a perfect way to include a vast array of voices and views without being obtrusive to the pacing of the story.

Broken into yearly chapters, the story is obviously chronological and this keeps the pace fast. Luckily, it avoids being a fumbling European view of US culture, but the journalists’ intrigue and naivete makes the footage far more accessible, and also unique, as they explore different aspects and speakers more likely to be overlooked by the US media at the time. Featuring figures such as Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, and Stokely Carmichael, you get a sense of the enigmatic nature of the Movement’s leaders through their speeches, but also as people through footage filmed during their downtime. There is a particularly wonderful interview with Stokely Carmichael’s mother as Stokely takes over the role of interviewer as the Swedish journalists struggle.  The range of footage with Angela Davis was by far the highlight of the film for me, and from her court case footage to the only interview in her cell, you get an all-encompassing view of an important figure in the movement who is often left out of similar films.

The subtlety of the film is its real strength and the enormous amount of footage from a multitude of approaches and view points makes Black Power Mixtape a joy to watch, while also being a very important cultural document. Add Questlove’s beautiful soundtrack into the mix and this a film that will have an extremely long life with an audience who will find a wonderful cinematic experience and, also, a great way to learn from a film that shows a different view into an important cultural period.