You shot Pressure in 1973. Why did you make the film?
I made Pressure because of what was going on in Britain at the time — the whole experience of black people in the country.
I mean the rough, brutal experience that they were going through, and what was happening around me.
There was the whole Black Power movement that started in the US that came here, with meetings and discussions — the activity and the demonstrations.
There was discrimination in education, police harassment and racist attacks in the streets, from various racist movements including the National Front.
You had clashes, fights, arguments and that sort of thing, and then you had other whites, in the 1960s, who were against the war in Vietnam, and against racism, and they came out and started to express themselves and demonstrate.
I was part of it — and I was covering it. I was photographing all those things. Out of all of that came the script of Pressure.
Samuel Selvon, a Trinidad novelist who had been here before me and who wrote Lonely Londoners, co?scripted the film with me.
As a photographer you covered the protests at the West Indian Mangrove cafe in the Notting Hill area of London. What was so significant about that campaign?
The whole Mangrove problem had been going back for a long time. There was harassment of the Mangrove restaurant, and the attitude of the police in the area.
There was a battle going on in Ladbroke Grove and Brixton, and in other places.
At the Mangrove they had had enough of this and challenged the authorities and the police who were controlling things at the time.
It was also a battle to keep the Notting Hill carnival. You must realise that the carnival, which is now the biggest festival in the whole of Europe, was a part of that battle. It was part of the movement to stop racism and the harassment of black people.
How did you get the funding to make Pressure?
It was not easy. We worked on the script by ourselves. I went around various television companies and they refused to make it.
I eventually went to the British Film Institute (BFI), and they went through an up and down process. Some people there did not want it, but there were a few who said yes, why not?
When we got some money and started to make it there wasn’t enough to make a two hour feature film with nearly 30 speaking parts in it.
But, and this is important, white and black film-maker friends, who I went to film school with and who were seeing the social and political world from the same point of view, supported me.
They said, “OK, we’ll volunteer for four or five weeks, but then we’ll have to go and earn some money.”
The response of the TV companies was that they did not want to know about the film. It was too militant.
After the film was made it was banned at the BFI for a year, and was only released after a few major critics eventually saw it and demanded that it should be shown.
I tell you why — what I did with that film was frightening at the time. I brought something to that film, which was realism, I set out to do this. I learnt about realist techniques in 1961 when I was living in Italy, from the work of Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, and African film?maker Ousmane Sembène.
They showed me that I didn’t have to go down the Hollywood street. The way I wanted to make this film was to bring the realism out. A lot of the young characters in the film were locals from the block, who were really living there, and who brought their life to it.
When people look at Pressure, they see it as quite modern. When I made the film all they talked about the politics, but no one talked about the structure and that was quite new in film-making here.
What also frightened people was the depiction of the police raid in the film, a lot of people who saw the film didn’t believe that kind of thing went on. But it did, regularly.
How important was it to represent black British people at the time?
Very important because they weren’t being represented. No one was dealing with what was going on in that world at that time.
You got different things written in the papers, about situations, about clashes, demonstrations and things, but nobody dealt with it.
What Pressure tried to do was to portray the experience of the Windrush generation, the kids who came with them and the kids born here.
Eamonn Kelly teaches cultural studies at the University of Wales, Newport