Call to Arms! Interview w/ Generation Revolution Co-directors

After viewing Raoul Peck’s Oscar nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, a friend and I debated the necessity of archiving images of brutality inflicted upon black bodies. This conversation then spiraled into a discussion on the democratized visual origins of Black Lives Matter, which can be seen as the first major political movement that constantly reenergizes itself on violent imagery. Despite the lackluster amount of visual media geared toward black narratives, there’s an even smaller presence of visual media centered around the unwavering position of black liberation freedom fighters. Generation Revolution is a rare exception.

The feature-length film is a contemporary, unapologetic document of grassroots political organizing by a new generation of black and brown activists in London, all striving to change the political and social landscape of the United Kingdom.

As first time directors, Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless chose to profile a raw subject matter that would make even the most seasoned veterans hesitate. Yet, by choosing to direct their gaze at D.I.Y organizers, the energy of the documentary is successful in maintaining its contagious, rebellious vibe. At the recent Sundance Film Festival, the documentary Whose Streets enjoyed critical acclaim for continuing the legacy of documenting Black Lives Matter “for the people, by the people,” much like Generation Revolution. Perhaps we’re ushering in a new age of documentary filmmaking that redirects the predatory gaze by seizing the means of production and empowering voices of the marginalized by fellow marginalized creatives.

SVLLY(wood) is delighted to interview Generation Revolution’s co-directors, Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless, as part of our two-part ‘Contextualizing Uprising’ feature in issue.2: INTIFADA! 

This interview contains minor spoilers.

SVLLY(wood): You’re both politically engaged on a grassroots level — do you think it’s important for filmmakers who engage with political cinema to be activists themselves?

Younis: I think having activist connections and being involved with grassroots activism was the first pull for us [to make this film]. If you’re going try to tell these stories, you’re going to have to have some kind of connection to understand the themes and the people.

So, if you’re interested in creating political cinema, you should seriously involve yourself with the world of your subject matter. You can see that with this film, it doesn’t have a preying lens; rather, it views the subject from within. It’s important to note we weren’t a part of the political organizations in this documentary, which allowed us to be totally subjective.

SVLLY(wood): Although the film was developed over the span of two years, it broke off from profiling just one organization to include three: The London Black Revolutionaries, R Movement, and the Black Dissidents. Any other major hiccups that happened during filming or in post?

Quarless: Perhaps the biggest ‘hiccup,’ without spoiling the film too much, was the organizational breakdown within the groups we were filming. We made this documentary to inspire young people — specifically young people of color — to think about the ways they can be apart of activism in their communities.

So, some of the massive interpersonal issues that were bubbling within these political organizations were nerve-wracking, because we felt that they could detract from Generation Revolution’s intended message.

That obstacle really transformed itself into a good thing, however. As we began to show the film to different people and different places, these honest depictions of organizational friction galvanized people who’ve been involved in group political organizing, because that sort of thing happens all the time. It would be remiss of us as documentary filmmakers to sugar coat what really happened, especially since it proved to be such a universal commonality.

SVLLY(wood): There were many guerrilla style shots; you had to have run into some other trouble!

Younis: Yeah well, Cassie was actually arrested as we were filming! Which was a hell of a way to set the scene!

Quarless: Our equipment was also destroyed. As I was being chased by the police with batons on-hand, I accidentally dropped one of the most expensive camera lenses that a friend let us borrow. We definitely had all of the complications that you can imagine, but we also took a lot precautions by encrypting hard drives, making sure to keep footage saved in multiple places, and hiring lawyers.

SVLLY(wood): Generation Revolution is successful at focusing on the London Black Lives Matter scene; do you think that will be a hindrance or strength as you embark on the U.S tour of the doc?

Quarless: I think it’s a strength for us. We see it as taking this international dialogue to the United States, and to places that we don’t necessarily talk too much about Europe, Brazil, Angola, etc. Generation Revolution doesn’t claim to speak for the whole movement, but instead speaks for the movement in the U.K. We’re trying to share the experiences of black and brown people, as well as showcase the resistance that exists here, and make people think about themselves as part of an international movement. Secondly, something we’ve noticed doing screenings is that this film inspires people to document and make their own films about the great work that’s being done in their own backyards.

SVLLY(wood): Any future film related projects lined up?

Quarless: Yes! We’re currently developing another project that probably won’t be out for another couple of years. Other than that, we can’t say much more about it. We see film as a powerful political tool, so the next film will embody a similar political potency [to Generation.] But again, can’t divulge too much about it!

SVLLY(wood): Keeping up with the theme of this issue: how do you envision a cinematic uprising?

Younis: My vision is to have the audience go straight from the cinema to the streets! Even while making this film, we asked, “How do we translate witnessing other young people participating in direct action to even more direct action?”

We’ve held workshops and discussions, and a lot of people are really excited. We’ve heard, “I’m inspired to create my own movement” as a reaction to watching the film, which is really exciting, but as filmmakers, it doesn’t stop here. Cinema is a really powerful medium to showcase our message, but our message doesn’t solely live inside the film. We’re very much out on the streets and behind the camera, and you have to combine the two to see real change.

Quarless: I agree with that completely!

After a successful U.K run, Generation Revolution will be starting its U.S debut tour in February 2017. Check out the official website, genrevfilm.com, for information on city stops and dates! We encourage you to support micro-budget filmmaking and its creators by scheduling a screening of the documentary at your college campus or local art house cinema.