Up and coming filmmaker Angela Carroll has jumped on the independent film scene in a major way with three films set to come out in 2010. She just finished editing the new film about police terrorism in Oakland, “Operation Small Axe,” she is working on editing a film about her recent trip to Haiti after the earthquake and she is getting ready to embark on a West Coast tour to begin showing her film, “Angela Y. Davis: Radical Pedagogy (Who Is Angela Davis?).”
Angela Davis was a member of the Communist Party and a radical professor at UCLA. Most people mistakenly identify her as a member of the Black Panther Party because of her affiliation with Field Marshal George Jackson of the Black Panther Party and heading the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee.
She also came to the world’s attention when she caught a case after the Aug. 7, 1970, massacre at the Marin County Courthouse, where Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of George, came in the courthouse armed and took the judge, D.A. and other hostages to trade for Field Marshal Jackson, who had been held a decade for being questionably convicted of a robbery of less than $100. In the interaction, the police killed everybody, except Angela Davis’ codefendant, who still languishes behind enemy lines, Ruchell Cinque Magee.
“Angela Y Davis: Radical Pedagogy” talks to students, academics, grassroots organizers, rappers and everyday people on the streets about the contributions of Professor Angela Davis. It is a must see if you are in any way interested in radical politics or women’s studies. Here is filmmaker Angela Carroll in her own words …
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us about your new film? How did you pick your subject?
Angela Carroll: “Angela Y. Davis: Radical Pedagogy (Who Is Angela Davis?)” is a short featuring students, supporters and colleagues of Professor Davis engaging in conversations on her academic and activist work. The film experiments with traditional documentary and classic animation styles, often filling the frame with glitches of color and static. As textured academic heads speak, a clay Angela Davis narrates and guides the dialog with excerpts from prison industrial complex, race, gender and sexuality and critical pedagogy lectures.
While I was a graduate student at UCSC, several History of Consciousness professors visited an exhibition featuring four of my animated films entitled “Peaced2GatherHerstories.” I received an email several days after the exhibition closed with an offer to render a film on Angela Davis. The project premiered Fall 2009 at “Angela Davis: Legacies in the Making,” a symposium celebrating her scholarship and retirement from UCSC.
I collaborated with friend and colleague Eric Stanley, a student of Professor Davis and notable filmmaker, on the short. I felt and still feel incredibly honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to participate in this project.
M.O.I. JR: Be it that claymation is seen as for children, what made you experiment with claymation in dealing with the politics of Angela Davis in this film?
Angela Carroll: My undergraduate work focused on animation. I have a deep love and appreciation for films that play with space, color and texture. Some of my favorite artists, Romeare Bearden and Jan Svankmajer, are masters of mashing mediums together into beautiful and disturbing images and films.
Similarly, I wanted to combine mediums and take a subject as seemingly static as academic dialog and examine the ways images and sounds work to engage the viewer within the frame. Claymation is just one of many aesthetic choices in the film made towards that end. I want these conversations to be accessible to all ages.
M.O.I. JR: How did you pick who you would interview for this film? What kind of feel were you looking for in the completed product?
Angela Carroll: We began with a long list of notable scholars and activists suggested by peers. It quickly revealed problematic class and racial divides between those included and left off the list. The initial group were all academics, very few of color, all well known within higher educational circles but invisible to everyday folks.
I wanted my students to be able to watch the film and see themselves reflected. The final product is more balanced, displaying conversations between grassroots organizers, hip hop artists, historians and a wide range of scholars. I also shot and interviewed random people on the streets of Berkeley to get their insights on the work and relevance of Angela Davis.
M.O.I. JR: I know that you first showed your film at Angela Davis’ retirement party. What was her response to it?
Angela Carroll: The film premiered on the last day of an intensive symposium with panel discussions and lectures. It was the last thing seen before Professor Davis gave closing remarks and officially retired. She was pleased with the film and overwhelmed with emotion by some of the commentary made by her students. She was really cool about it all.
There is a segment of the film where people on the street are asked who Angela Davis is. Nearly all of them responded that they did not know who she was. While some in the audience gasped, Angela laughed. She’s incredibly accessible, humble and open to criticism. I was relieved that she wasn’t offended by the realities that some in the academy don’t want to accept.
There is a divide between the vocabularies developed in the academy and the most impacted bodies that the vocabularies are supposed to support. Angela’s work is largely around trying to close those divides. I think she really appreciated the piece.
M.O.I. JR: What does Angela Davis mean to you? What was her biggest contribution to public discourse?
Angela Carroll: I think that, like many people, I knew Angela’s image before I knew about her scholarship. I confused her political involvement with the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party. I knew I liked her afro and heard that she was powerful. It wasn’t until high school when an English teacher gave me her autobiography that I began to develop a more critical perspective about her academic and activist practices.
I was especially impressed and informed by “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism,” which discussed blues and jazz singers of the 1920s and the empowerment and example their work created for women past and present. I am also incredibly interested in her work around the PIC (Prison Industrial Complex) and the intersections she describes between slavery, prison labor and capitalism.
I sat in on many of her lectures at UCSC and never tired of her teaching style and engagement with the class. She is an important thinker in this moment.
M.O.I. JR: Is she still relevant? Why or why not?
Angela Carroll: The film grapples with this question of relevance and impact. I personally think she is relevant. Her works encourage us, the readers, students, everyday folk, to develop our own language and movements around breaking down the systems that oppress us; to actualize those vocabularies and crush those oppressive systems.
The film doesn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. It covers varying ideas. The film dissects practice vs. theory through analysis of Angela Davis’ pedagogical and activist approach.
M.O.I. JR: What other projects are you working on or have you worked on?
Angela Carroll: 2009 was an extraordinary year. I acted as lead editor and production designer in collaboration with 393Films Director Adimu Madyun on an amazing feature film entitled “Operation Small Axe.”
I just returned from Haiti with Minister of Information JR Valrey, photojournalist and videographer Siraj Fowler and a medical team sponsored by Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. We are collaboratively rendering a feature length film about what we witnessed on the ground in Haiti. Look forward to seeing a series of vivid interactive animation-installations written and invented by myself and an amazing team of dreamers from my film/new media company MerKaBaFilms in the summer 2010.
I feel extremely excited about the future and about being an artist in this moment. I feel blessed to have support systems, community and family that afford me the opportunity to create critically beautiful media.
M.O.I. JR: How could people stay up on your work? How can they see the trailer?
Angela Carroll: Check me out on Vimeo at MerKaBaFilms. You’ll see the “Angela Y. Davis: Radical Pedagogy” trailer and some other experiments in film.
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