IDFA 2018: Scared of Revolution
24 November 2018
"Niggers are scared of revolution," civil rights campaigner and celebrated African-American poet Umar Bin Hassan wrote in one of his most famous (and notorious) protest songs.
"It was pretty much a call for self- improvement on behalf of African- American men," Dutch director Daniël Krikke says of the polemical anthem which has given his debut feature documentary its title.
Scared Of Revolution (a world premiere in IDFA's competition for Dutch documentary) is partly inspired by a novel that the director's mother, Christine Otten, wrote about Umar and his role in the so-called Last Poets, a radical 60s musical collective credited as one of the originators of rap and hip hop.
Umar (who will be in Amsterdam for the premiere) later acknowledged that he, too, was scared of change. His song may have been intended as a call to revolution but it also had a surprisingly personal resonance. During the course of the film, Krikke shows him conquering his fear and embracing revolution from the inside out, as the director puts it.
Krikke himself first encountered rap music as a youngster. "When I was 14, I was pretty much intrigued by hip hop music and black culture," the filmmaker recalls. He became obsessed with Umar when he first met him in the US on a research trip with his mother, and told everyone he knew that his first movie was going to be about the Last Poets.
Over the past 40 years, several attempts have been made by other filmmakers to tell the Last Poets story on film. Umar and the others in the group have been very suspicious about such projects. However, they reacted positively to Krikke's proposal. "I think they trusted me and had the feeling I could understand them," the director suggests. It helped, too, that his mother had written the novel about them and that he knew them personally for a long time. He may have been "a white filmmaker from Amsterdam", dealing with the intimate experiences of African-Americans but his subjects didn't regard him as an outsider. Umar befriended the director the very first time they met and allowed him unfettered access to his family and friends.
Krikke knew exactly what kind of film he wanted to make. When potential financiers tried to make him sway from his original vision, he simply decided to finance the film as best he could himself.
Scared Of Revolution is clearly a huge passion project. He hugely admires the way The Last Poets have always stood up for equal rights, even when they've put themselves at risk as a result.
"I couldn't understand as a 14-yearold how evil people could be and go exploit an entire race for 400 years - that still has an impact today," the director says. "Black people understand but it is so hard to change their self-perspective when, over the course of centuries, white people nourished black people to hate themselves pretty much...if you're raised in an environment of racism, self-hatred and drugs and violence, that's not very constructive for the way you look at yourself."
Krikke has already shown Umar the documentary. Thankfully, the veteran poet's response was (eventually) overwhelmingly positive. "I waited until I had the rough cut. He (Umar) watched it with his entire family back in Baltimore. He sent me one sentence that he couldn't speak about it," the director recalls. At first, Krikke feared the worst and worried that Umar had disliked the film. Then, Umar sent him another, much longer email, saying he had watched it again.
"You are one brilliant, masterful, charismatic, Scorpio motherfucker! I am so honoured and proud that I trusted you with the interpretation of my life," Umar told the director in this second message, adding, "the world is about to become yours, Daniel." Geoffrey Macnab
SEE NL Magazine #33 November 2018 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.