SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Don Simpson | January 21, 2013
Director: John Akonfrah
I am not quite sure how I did not know of Stuart Hall’s work until John Akonfrah’s documentary, The Stuart Hall Project. As it turns out, the Jamaican-born, Oxford-educated cultural theorist is one of the founding figures in British Cultural Studies and co-founder of New Left Review. Hall was very involved in introducing discussions of class, race and gender into the realms of Media Studies and Cinema Studies. Hall was fascinated by the complexity of identity, and the notions of cultural acceptance and assimilation of immigrants and minorities. This is precisely why I am shocked that I have never heard of him, because I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in British Cultural Studies and the New Left movement. So, you might say that the most important thing that I learned anything from The Stuart Hall Project is that I have a lot more learning to do.
Akonfrah impressively assembles an entire film about Hall utilizing only archival footage. Other than occasional inter-titles, there is nary a directorial stamp in this documentary. Most of the film is comprised of television interviews with Hall, allowing him to essentially serve as the narrator. We listen to Hall’s various theories on race, class, gender and culture while observing relevant b-roll footage. Consuming all of this footage decades after it was originally recorded opens the subject up to a more unbiased interpretation by the audience. Other than an overtly reverential conclusion, The Stuart Hall Project respectfully avoids telling us what to think about Hall’s theories and opinions; instead, we are able to take in the information thru our own lens in the present.
Additionally, since Hall’s favorite musician is Miles Davis, Akonfrah cleverly uses tracks from Davis’s long and varied career to set the mood and tone for the images. It’s quite an effective soundtrack that only falters on the rare occasions that Akonfrah confusingly uses filler music that has absolutely nothing to do with Davis.