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The Hard Stop docufilm – The riots that followed a killing – words Paul Risker
The fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in 2011 sparked widespread riots as the country witnessed the tumultuous consequences of division that lay beneath its surface.
“In 2011 those divisions in society started with an act of killing, a sense of injustice, of the distortion of the truth coming from the media and the police” explains The Hard Stop docufilm director George Amponsah. “And that led to a riot. But when afterwards the riot emanated out of Tottenham and across London, and into other cities in the UK, then it actually stopped being about Mark Duggan and the Tottenham region. It became about wider divisions within society.”
The general release of Amponsah’s documentary, which follows the lives of two of Duggan’s close friends, Marcus Knox Hooke and Kurtis Henville, comes only a short time after the EU Referendum, which has illuminated the UK as a divided Union. While the protests of 2011 differed in nature to the protest vote against the establishment in the Referendum, one using violence as a means of expression and the other democracy, together they share a thematic kinship.
Speaking with Flux ahead of the release, Amponsah reflected on how the film came to be, the contrasting nature of documentary to the mainstream media, social divisions and the film has provoking a change in perspective.
What were the initial steps in the genesis of The Hard Stop?
I was at a party in North London and I met a woman called Yanna McIntosh. She’s someone you could call a community elder from Tottenham – one of the pillars of the community. She’s a lovely lady and we got to talking, and the subject of the riots came up because this was in 2012, and so it was still fresh. I told her I was a documentary filmmaker and that I would be interested in maybe doing a film with some of the people that perhaps had a genuine reason for rioting in 2011. She said she knew two friends of Mark Duggan who might be interested in making a film, and so she made the introduction with Marcus and Kurtis.
When the opportunity to be a part of this project arose, were there any reservations from Marcus and Kurtis, or did they wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to tell a side of the story that hadn’t yet been reported?
It required an enormous act of courage for Marcus and Kurtis to trust me. Not only could I have been someone from the media, but it was not totally unfeasible that I could have been some sort of agent of the police, which was also a fear that they had. So I don’t think it was totally unfounded paranoia, should I say that. They really put their heads above the parapet and what I recognised was they had this genuine reason for wanting to be on camera. They wanted to set the record straight ‘quote on quote’ about their friend Mark Duggan. I have done quite a lot of television documentaries about gangs, Ross Kemp’s Hardest Gangs and that sort of thing, which is another how and where watching television. So I’ve filmed quite a lot of sides from that walk of life and that background, and in a lot of those types of programmes you find people that are on there to basically see themselves as stars. And what I recognised instantly with Marcus and Kurtis was they had a genuine and sincere reason for wanting to be on camera, which was to set the record straight about their friend, and that’s how it started.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the comparison between the documentary film and the mainstream news media. The story of Mark’s shooting and the ensuing riots were well documented by the media. Documentary and even narrative films, the latter centred upon real life events can serve a purpose to take us behind the facts and headlines, to show us the story from from a different point of view. I always argue that film as an art form and documentary as a craft are vitally important in their capacity to reach behind the mainstream media to expose a broader truth.
I can only agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. If you get the right people for the right reasons then I don’t think it can be beaten by fiction or dramatic fiction with actors, because everything you see in The Hard Stop is real life. There are real emotions and it is real people going through real difficulties. We have done a number of preview screenings before the film goes on general release, and what we are noticing is that audiences are responding to that. I am glad to say that we have all been there to answer questions: myself, Marcus, Curtis and Dionne Walker the producer. And what we have all noticed is that almost every time we have done one of those screenings with a question and answer session, there is a real feeling of emotion. The audience seem to respond with compassion I suppose to the reality they have seen onscreen, and it’s something that for me has been quite an humbling experience. But then you start to realise that for something like this documentary, everyone comes together. They have different personalities and fears, but when you do something like this and you go through all the hardships and difficulties involved, then the end result is worthwhile. It makes you realise that you have all come together for a reason, and that reason is that you all ultimately have a belief in something. Obviously Marcus and Curtis were childhood friends of Mark’s. They grew up with him and they loved him as a brother. But even to step away from their emotional feelings towards him, there’s a sense of an injustice that happened, and I think that’s one of the unifying things that brought all of these different people together. A lot come from different backgrounds compared to Marcus and Curtis’, and had it not been for what happened to Mark Duggan on August 4 2011, then we would never have met, and we would never have had to deal with each other.
You discuss unity in the midst of inevitable divisions, but the idea of division here in the UK seems more prevalent following the EU Referendum. The Tory’s are talking about being a “One Nation Party” and we generally like to consider our society a tolerant one. Beneath the surface are there significant fractures, although are we not always vulnerable to division?
With Marcus and Kurtis taking me in there to make the film, what I noticed as an outsider was the unity and the sense of community. Also I realised that certain people that appear in The Hard Stop that are slightly older than Marcus and Kurtis remember the 1985 riots very well. One pointed out to me that part of the reason for it is that actually you have a byproduct of the 1985 riots, because what happened was the community became quite insulated. They felt that they had to come together to help each other in the face of the outside world. But just in terms of what you are saying about order and divisions in society or the divisions in society as a whole, in 2011 those divisions in society started with an act of killing, a sense of injustice, of the distortion of the truth coming from the media and the police. And that led to a riot. But when the riot emanated out of Tottenham and across London, and into other cities in the UK, then it stopped being about Mark Duggan and the Tottenham region. It became about wider divisions within society and it exposed that there are a lot of pissed off people in this country. We are talking about Brexit and the things that are now happening in Britain as of the last two weeks, and I think it is simple mathematics. What the Referendum decision by the electorate exposed – if we talk about those that voted – is there are 52% of people in this country that were pissed off enough to vote to leave the EU. That leaves another 48% of people who as far as I am concerned are now pissed off because we’ve left the EU. So it is simple mathematics, and as far as I can see we have people in this country who are now pissed off, and that has exposed serious divisions in this country. And that’s why a lot of politicians who initiated the Referendum and later this decision are seemingly now running scared. My point is that with those divisions in society, all it needs is a spark and that spark can ignite an explosion, and it can happen again. This is what we are concerned about and this is why we hope a film like The Hard Stop illuminates why it is so important for justice to be done, because otherwise history will repeat itself.
Looking back on the experience of making the film, has it been a transformative experience for you personally?
Definitely, because it has been a long road. We started making this film in 2012 and so it has been four years of my life – I have a few more grey hairs now than I did four years ago. But over a period of time I think I have realised why it is worthwhile doing these sort of documentaries. If I didn’t know before why I have done things like this, then I know now. And another thing I want to mention as well is how the process I have been through in the making this film has left me with a real appreciation of team work, and of those people that have given of themselves in the making of The Hard Stop. One of the things that I really appreciate that I never appreciated before are the end credits, because I find now they are one of the most moving parts for me. It had not used to be, but now when watching The Hard Stop one of the most moving parts are the end credits, because of that long list of people who gave themselves and contributed to the film. So I never used to have that feeling. I have made several films before this long form documentary where I’ve always been aware of the content and the camerawork, but now the end credits have really caught my attention.
The Hard Stop docufilm was released theatrically in the Uk 15th July 2016 by Metrodome Distribution.
The Hard Stop docufilm – The riots that followed a killing – words Paul Risker