I was beginning to think that my film Who Shot The Sheriff? was jinxed. The film, which tells the story of one of the most exciting mass movements in British history – the Rock Against Racism movement – was due to be previewed on the Leftfield stage at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Unfortunately, during the violent thunderstorms seen at the festival this year, the Leftfield tower (a structure built by redundant shipbuilders from Appledor in North Devon to celebrate the ongoing worldwide struggle for economic and social justice) was hit by lightning. This sent an electrical shockwave direct into the heart of my computer’s hard drive which wiped the preview copy of the film.
A second preview screening was rescheduled for the Marxism 2005 conference on 7 July. But as well as being a filmmaker I am also a firefighter and we were mobilised from Soho to King’s Cross after the London bombings. The rest is history.
I’ve been making films for the trade union and labour movement ever since the last national firefighters’ strike when Joe Strummer played a benefit gig for striking firefighters in November 2002.
Who Shot The Sheriff? features interviews and unseen footage of artists from the Rock against Racism (RAR) movement of the 1970s and the Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) movement today, including The Clash, The Libertines, The Specials, Ms Dynamite, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots, X-Ray Spex, Sham 69, Estelle and Babyshambles, among many others. It tracks the rise of racism and the National Front in Britain during the 1970s, and how a generation of black and white people fought back against the Nazi threat.
There’s lots of rarely seen archive footage from the punk and RAR era, including the famous 1978 carnival in east London’s Victoria Park where 100,000 marched to a show headlined by The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. There’s also the historic protest of local black people and anti-fascists from across London to stop a massive Nazi march in Lewisham in 1977 that led to the launch of the Anti Nazi League.
The story uses a wealth of interviews with the leading artists and activists who created RAR, many speaking for the first time about what happened, including Mick Jones, Jerry Dammers, Neville Staples, Jimmy Pursey, Polly Styrene, Don Letts, Billy Bragg, and RAR founders Red Saunders, Roger Huddle, Syd Shelton and Ruth Gregory.
People should take note of this film, not because it’s going to be a great film, but because I want people to understand how a movement can shape the world we live in. Rock Against Racism not only helped to defeat the Nazi National Front but also shaped our musical future. As an example, on stage at RAR gigs you had roots reggae bands playing with punk bands and this helped to push music into new areas.
I wanted to make this film for two reasons. Firstly, it’s nearly 30 years since Eric Clapton got on stage in Birmingham and burbled this racist rubbish about how Enoch Powell was ‘our man’ and that Britain was overcrowded. Secondly, far right groups like the BNP are still present, and I want to let the new generation of anti-fascists know how important music is to counterblast the creeping curse of fascism. I want to stress how important it is to mix musical genres and cultures so we begin to really understand each other.
The film is being shown on a tour around the country this autumn, in partnership with Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism. It hopes to inspire a new generation to get involved ahead of the 2006 local elections in which today’s Nazis, the BNP, will be trying to con people to vote them onto local councils, stirring up vicious racism along the way.
The London premiere event on 15 September will feature the film followed by live performances from both legendary RAR acts and contemporary acts who support LMHR. And during October there’ll be a short tour of the film, including dates in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and the West Midlands. Finally, we will also be inviting student unions and independent cinemas to stage showings of the film with LMHR gigs throughout the autumn and winter.
Who Shot the Sheriff? was made possible by the generous support of the Amicus trade union.
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