“A workshop focused on issues that mattered”: A Conversation with Retake Film and Video Collective co-founder Ahmed Alauddin Jamal [Video]

This groundbreaking drama Majdhar (1984) was among the first to bring the inner lives and struggles of South Asian communities to popular audiences in the UK. On January 28, 2021 Block Cinema was proud to host a screening of the film followed by a discussion with Ahmed Alauddin Jamal, the co-founder of the legendary Retake Film and Video Collective.

Retake is known as the first all-Asian organization to emerge during the fertile “workshop era” of British collaborative independent filmmaking. Majdhar was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4 in 1984–a watershed moment in diasporic cinema that paved the way for later broadcasts like Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Launderette (1985) and the Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs (1986).

Swagato Chakravorty, a doctoral candidate in Film Studies and Art History at Yale University, introduced the film and spoke with Jamal in a wide ranging conversation that illuminates the unique workings of the Workshop, its peers and partner organizations, and underscores Retake’s place in paving the professional path of innovators to follow.

Introduction by Swagato Chakravorty

What we had was a kind of contestation over meaning-making. What did it mean to be British? What was, or could conceivably be, British cinema? What institutional response to the civil uprisings, with the emergence of the workshop, et cetera. In the 1982 Workshop Declaration and the launch of Channel Four in November that year were transformative events that made possible, at an infrastructural level, efforts on the part of Black British filmmakers to produce and circulate alternate forms of representation. Among the groundbreaking workshops and collectives that came out of this moment, are the Black Audio Film Collective founded in 1982, Sankofa 1983, Shadow 1981-82 and Retake Film and Video Collective founded in 1982.

Co-founded by the brothers Mahmood and Ahmed Alauddin Jamal, Retake was the first all-Asian collective formed as a response to the need for Asian filmmakers to produce programs concerning the Asian community in Britain. But if the composition of the collective was all Asian and its self-professed mandate was to advance the sociocultural project of Asian representation in British popular culture, the very name Retake bespoke the collective participation in a broader Black British effort to retake the means of representation in order to recode the conditions of cultural representation from the ground up to refresh the very image of who counts as British.

Retake was the first workshop to be fully franchised under the terms of the Workshop Declaration. They received material and financial support from Channel Four and engaged both in filmmaking and non-production work. Retake outfitted film and video editing rooms, offered production courses, as well as courses on the history of cinema, and basically trained an emerging generation of Black Britons, many of whom would go on to establish careers of their own within the industry. Retake’s work announced itself quietly, given the relative conventionality of form and style across their films, but their influence and networks spread widely.

Swagato Chakravorty

Ahmed Alauddin Jamal in conversation with Swagato Chakravorty

There was a certain desire by the local people to be heard and say what they want to see on television, what they want to say. And so we came out of that responsibility….The workshop was a way of working, it was a kind of determination to do certain kinds of work, to take on issues in the world around you. We were a workshop focused on issues that mattered. That was our preoccupation.

Ahmed Alauddin Jamal

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