John Akomfrah: The Stuart Hall Project

Last night I suddenly remembered that during an animated dinner at a seminar at The European Film College, my business partner accidentally poked the eye of director John Akomfrah while stating a point in some mindless discussion. John had earlier that day shown his film “Riot” (1999), which had a raw energy that I liked, and being one of the founders of Black Audio Film Collective he was a welcome guest at the seminar. That night everybody had a lot of wine, we had a lot of fun and John was just a genuinely nice guy. The eye-poking didn’t change that and you could overhear this dialogue again and again at our table:

  • What’s your name?

  • John Akomfrah.

  • Where do ya com’ fra’?

  • I come from London.


For all these reasons I was looking forward to Akomfrah’s film with and about Stuart Hall; a Jamaican born, English cultural theorist and sociologist. I didn’t know much about Hall beforehand but I certainly do now, which I guess is the best I can say. The film consists of his participations in a number of TV-programs, a more recent voice-over by Hall himself and lots and lots of archive footage from news reels and the like. It’s arranged chronologically and Halls ideas and comments on popular culture, current affairs, racism and neo-liberalism are almost shoveled down our throats, and you really have to prick up your ears.

It’s too much and in the attempt to avoid a complete wall-to-wall carpet of Hall’s voice, we are invited to listen to different tracks with Miles Davis (of whom Hall is supposedly a fan). Being somewhat of a jazz buff myself, I was looking forward to this bit, but not only is there a lot of other, original music; the way we are bombarded with Davis made me realize that I deep down really don’t like most of his music. It’s often pointless, annoying or self-absorbed – at least in this film where the collaboration with the images never seem to find a naturally felt or organic feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, Stuart Hall IS really a brilliant man, and you will benefit from this film if you want to know more about him. But the film feels more like an insisting tap on your forehead than a single – and ultimately enlightening – poke in the eye.

UK, 2013, 78 mins.

Seen at CPH:DOX in the program series “Auteurs”, November 2013.

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Mikkel Stolt
Mikkel Stolt
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