How do you tell a story about knife crime without falling into tropes that demonise young people? It’s a challenge in the current social context, where the image of knife crime hinges on one-dimensional caricatures of young black men. See a news report about tragedy and you might hear the name “gang”, young men in hoodies, or worse, a moral panic about music like “UK Drill” at the heart of all violence in London. So what about the real stories? It’s a challenge that filmmaker Iggy Ldn has taken, to show the beauty of life beyond reductive headlines. His exquisite short film Velvet encompasses all the beauty and joy of life in abundance. The short takes us through a liberated, urgent, dance, showing hypnotising and powerful rising forms as Michael Junior Onafowokan body’s moves in times with music provided by Father and Kwabs. Iggy’s previous work is testament to taking a breath and reimagining visions of blackness — his stand out short film Black Boys Don’t Cry was a critically acclaimed look at the delicacy of black masculinity.
In one shot, we see a mother, frantically cleaning, washing dishes, tension and fear etched on her face as her son dances, carefree and strong, before tragedy strikes. The film was inspired by the death of 25-year-old model Harry Ozuka earlier this year, and Velvet unpacks the horror through gentle pacing and beautifully shot set pieces of everyday life; alongside enrapturing choreography provided by “Paleta":http://www.paletacalmquality.com/ noted for her work with Fka Twigs.
Iggy talks to us about loss, his own experiences of violence, and the importance of dance.
It’s Nice That: Velvet tells the story of the loss of a son. Why did you choose to re-write the narrative around young males?
Iggy Ldn: I think there a lot of preconceived notions behind when we talk about knife crime. Time and time again, victims of knife crime have always been linked to gang culture and youth violence. Secondly, a lot of the media coverage around knife crime has removed the personal element to the to these people – more often than not, newspaper spreads focus on the violence; on the weapon or the crime itself without looking into the life of the person who has been lost. Because of the way deaths have been portrayed in the media, a lot of people have therefore become desensitised. For many of us, these people were just names which added to statistics and political campaigns. I felt that I wanted this to change and that there be a emotional element brought back to the way to see knife crime and the loss of anyone who is within a community.
INT: How have the perceptions you are attempting to address through this video affected you?
IL: The first person that I ever lost to knife crime was a schoolmate called Ailton Campos De Oliveira. I was 17 at the time. Ailton had been stabbed as a result of a postcode war and died in hospital two days later from a knife wound to his right lung. Ailton was the boldest, funniest person I ever met. When Harry Uzoka died at the beginning of this year, it felt as though a bandaid had been ripped off and the sadness that I had felt when I was 17 had resurfaced all over again. Here was a young man at the prime of his career, a role model to the people within the community and a supermodel to the rest of the world. I, as well as many others, looked up to him as a source of inspiration. This year commenced the biggest rise in knife crime to ever be recorded and we saw the same story on the news over and over again. Time and time again we see these headlines and forget about the lives that predated these headlines. We forget about the type of people that they wanted to become. We forget that they had a favourite show or favourite sport. We lose all of this when we whittle their lives down to statistics, campaign strategies and news chat.
INT: Why did you choose to incorporate dance as a medium through which to tell this story?
IL: I really liked the idea of dance because I think it added to the son’s freedom and self-expression. This imagery is hardly shown on mainstream media and it was necessary to incorporate dance in order to show how innocent young males can be. When adding a council estate and violent crime context to this, I felt that it explored the idea that even the most innocent can be a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I also thought that the element of dance would work quite nicely in conjunction with my previous films Black Boys Don’t Cry and Fatherhood.
INT: Is this the first time you have worked with dance? Can you tell us about the experience of doing so? How did it shape the way in which you told the story?
IL: Velvet was my first time incorporating dancing within a film. Usually my work doesn’t contain much movement but I think the dance element of the film really introduced the freedom of the son and how this was at odds with the rigidity of the mother. I know that this could only be achieved through playful medium such as dance mixed with the static and observational nature of the mother. However, I needed to make sure that the dance added to the story and didn’t deter from it. I worked with a choreographer called Paleta who was able to really understand the subject matter and find movements that were able to convey the emotion needed to be shown in the film. I think the main focus was not to rely heavily on obvious dance but develop the dance moves from everyday movements.
INT: How do you see Velvet building on your work as a director to date?
IL: I’ve always wanted my films to be thought-provoking and engaging with an audience; so much so that it creates a really great dialogue about real-life issues. I would like to think that Velvet is an example of this. Velvet reinforces the need to tell stories in an authentic but beautiful way. I hope it inspires other creatives to discuss narratives in a new and fresh way, but most importantly, with integrity and care for the subject matter. I’m really interested in building a body of work that can be shown beyond the online platform. Because of how important these subject matters are, I’m really excited about the prospect of Velvet and films similar to this being exposed to young kids in schools or colleges that would otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to it.