Hailing from Sweden, the documentary filmmaker takes on the Civil Rights Movement in his new piece of work
Swedish filmmaker and cinematographer Göran Olsson has travelled the world tackling a variety of subjects. His most noted documentaries include ‘Fuck You, Fuck You Very Much’, which charted singer Leila K’s return to prominence, and a look at soul singer Billy Paul in ‘Am I Black Enough For You’. The 16mm footage that became ‘Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975’, was discovered in a cellar and features contributions from Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Danny Glover. He spoke to Dazed about Swedish interest in the Civil Rights Movement, nabbing Angela Davis and why it’s important to stand up for your rights.
Dazed Digital: How did you come across the footage that was eventually turned into this film?
Göran Olsson: I was doing research on another film and I had to go through an entire archive. I came across this material in the basement of the Swedish Broadcast Corporation and I immediately saw a film in the material.
DD: How did you decide what would make the cut?
Göran Olsson: That was a problem but I worked based on the framework of the film and the narrative structure of the content which was so clear so it fit into place rather smoothly. I took it as my duty to make this accessible to an audience around the world so my goal is for this to be in libraries and universities for years to come so people who are interested can find it and make their own view of it.
DD: Why do you think the Swedish journalists were so interested in what was happening in America?
Göran Olsson: I really respect, love and admire the people on the film but I also really admire the people who shot the film because they showed us something different. At the time Sweden decided we should have our own independent media and cover the world’s news from a Swedish perspective. The connection between the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement and Sweden was very strong and I think it started when Dr King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
DD: Did your thoughts about the Civil Rights Movement change after making this film?
Göran Olsson: It deepened. It comes from Malcolm X, that attitude that you can’t sit around and wait for someone to come and give you your rights, you have to stand up for your rights and if that’s not enough you have to fight for your rights, and even a Swedish middle aged, middle class, white person like me can understand that.
DD: The film features contributions from poets, professors and musicians, why did you want a broad range of people to contribute?
Göran Olsson: I think some people were obvious like Angela Davis, to have her commenting on her own image from that time and reflecting on it. I was influenced by the director’s commentary track on DVD, when you can hear the filmmaker or someone else commenting on the film while watching it so it was that kind of things. Regarding the contemporary artists, I knew them from their music and I knew which one of them would be interested to see the material and comment on it.
DD: Were Angela Davis and Harry Belafonte very willing to contribute?
Göran Olsson: I wouldn’t say they were easy but once you have the connections with them, they were happy to be in it. Angela wanted to see the stuff on herself and I got Mr. Belafonte through Danny Glover. I think I benefited from the fact that I come from Sweden, they understand that you don’t know the entire history and they are very generous and forthcoming when trying to explain it to you.
DD: Why do you think it is so important for people to see the footage?
Göran Olsson: I think it’s very important not to agree or disagree with what they did but to realise that democracy is not a constant state, it’s like boiling water, and you have to put constant energy under it to make it happen. You can find lots of things about this in books but seeing them and getting a feel for them is something different.
Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is out this Friday