Revolution #252, December 11, 2011
Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World
Last April in Harlem, a range of artists, musicians, dancers and actors came together from a diversity of perspectives in a unique cultural event: On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. BAsics is a book of quotations and short essays from Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader who has developed a new synthesis of communism. This event brought people together who hadn't shared a stage before, and a remarkable connection was forged between these artists and the hundreds in the audience that night.
This film will tell the story of what those artists did and why they did it.
The film will answer what brought together some of the top jazz musicians today, a cutting-edge "tropical punk" singer, a former member of the Black Panther Party, poets with their roots in the '60s and poets who shaped the more recent spoken-word movement. And it will get into the significance of why all this was occasioned by the release of a book from the leader and thinker who has re-envisioned revolution and communism.
The film will be structured into the same four acts as the original event: Roots; The Whole Globe In Mind... Dedication; A Different Way to Think, Feel and Be; A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World.
It will weave together footage from the event performances with interviews from artists and people who were part of the host committee for the event. The interviews will explore all the themes that were on the stage that night – brought in through poetry, dance, theater, music and video footage. The revolutionary character of the '60s through poetry, dance, archival footage of the Black Panther Party and Avakian speaking in 1969... and a fiery statement from a former member of the Black Panther Party. None of this was with the nostalgia of looking back but through the words and culture, making you feel that revolutionary spirit and pointing it towards the future. Voices from around the world were brought in – through a theatrical piece about going home to Bangladesh, a dramatic reading of a poem from an Iranian revolutionary and a bilingual musical performance that rocked with celebratory defiance. A range of voices spoke to what it means to dedicate oneself to a struggle that is larger than themselves. Archival video from Avakian from 1976 on not selling out and voices of people in prison responding to Avakian's words on living a life of meaning.
The event explored questions of morality, and of the relations between different sections of people... both explicitly but also in the ways in which all kinds of musical and artistic genres shared the stage in a way that never happens in our society. The role of women in society was brought in both through Avakian's words being read poetically to music, and in the way women performers danced and played defiantly throughout the night. A range of abstract music was played – that made people think, got butts moving and made their hearts soar.
All the participants have different views on all these themes, and bringing all this together was part of the richness of the night... all contributing to the largest theme of celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world.
The film will also explore what all the participants felt in being part of something that was occasioned by the release of a book by the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian. Some were very familiar with his work; many had just been introduced to him. Some had read several books and been following him for years; others had just checked out BAsics and were engaging Avakian's work for the first time. In a time when revolution and communism are considered off the table, what made these artists feel that this is what was needed in the world now? What compelled them to celebrate this occasion, even as they have their own and sometimes very different views on the content of Avakian's work? What kind of revolution and vision of a new world was being, in a very real and engaging and contradictory way, being previewed that night?
The interviews will draw out what these artists are trying to accomplish in their work, and how they saw participating in this event as part of that. We will dig into their thinking on the state of the world, what they think is required to transform it, and their views on BAsics in that light... again, involving a diversity of perspectives.
We will also intersperse video that was aired on the stage – a welcome message from Cornel West, archival footage of Avakian speaking in 1969 and 1976, as well as a more recent video from 2003 and other video messages sent that night, including a short piece from a young revolutionary who has since passed away from cancer, a message from artist Richard Duardo and others.
At this event – the artists and audience – carved out new space. New ways of relating, and together were stirred in ways they didn't expect and didn't think possible... a door was opened to the potential for another way the world could be. This film will open that up further in society, spreading and sharing that "different way to think, feel and be."
Who is the audience for this film?
This is a film for anyone who has dreamed of a different and better world or wondered how art and culture can be part of creating it. This film will contribute to changing the culture in our society, to bringing into being a culture that is uplifting instead of degrading, to tapping into people's highest aspirations in opposition to a me-first ethos, and to opening up mental space to engage and explore ideas of fundamental change. This film is for those who are curious to see how and why an incredibly diverse range of artistic voices respond to the revolutionary vision of Bob Avakian in these dangerous times.
This is for young artists who are trying to figure out how their work can be part of contributing to that different culture, students who want to be part of forging a counter culture that is a harbinger of the new, professionals sick of the status quo but cynical as to whether people can come together to bring something positive into being. And it's for those who suffer most from the brutality and immiseration in our society, but too often think they're alone and think people from other sections of society care not for their future. It's a film for anyone who likes the idea of celebrating revolution and the vision of a new world through art, dance, theater and music and thinks a wide range of people from different perspectives need to be part of that.
What is the plan for release and distribution?
This will be released in late winter/early spring. Part of the funds being raised is for release parties and screenings in several cities – Oakland, New York, LA and Chicago. Fans of the film would rent or get donated small theaters, invite artists to play and release the film with a splash.
It will be submitted to local and grassroots film festivals nationally, art houses and cinematheques and efforts made for it to be aired on public access in every region of the country. The film will be made available on iTunes, and sold on DVD nationally. Promotional work and outreach will be done for screenings in high schools and college campuses, in the projects and community centers.
This film will be a significant contribution to the discourse and a source of inspiration to those lifting their heads and asking about the future. After leaving the event, a young woman described it this way, "It feels like hope. That's honestly what it feels like..."
some quotes from BAsics, quotes from participants and attendees
A few of the QUOTES FROM BAsics read or shown on screen throughout the night at this event:
"There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth."
"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives."
"The truth will not set us free, in and of itself, but we will not get free without the truth."
BAsics 3:31 (excerpt)
"...Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution..."
"Let's imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this 'bitches and ho's' and SWAT teams kicking down doors. Enough of this 'get low' bullshit. And how come it's always the women that have to get low? We already have a situation where the masses of women and the masses of people are pushed down and held down low enough already. It's time for us to get up and get on up.
"Imagine if we had a society where there was culture—yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too—movies, songs, television, everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world.
"Imagine if the people who created art and culture were not just a handful of people but all of the masses of people, with all their creative energy unleashed, and the time were made for them to do that, and for them to join with people who are more full-time workers and creators in the realm of art and culture to bring forward something new that would challenge people, that would make them think in different ways, that would make them be able to see things critically and from a different angle, and would help them to be uplifted and help them to see their unity with each other and with people throughout the world in putting an end to all the horrors that we're taught are just the natural order of things. Imagine all that."
COMMENTS FROM ATTENDEES:
a young woman:
"It feels like hope. That's honestly what it feels like. Growing up I've always had these sort of ideals and then in high school I was really trying to push them forward and everyone would always try to shut me up or ignore me because everyone either dismissed it completely and said the system that we lived in was fine or just didn't want to get in trouble. But just being around everyone, and hearing and seeing, I just felt immense hope. This is just a small room and a small group of people, but in the wider America and the wider world there's people just like us. And the point is to connect and unite and to bring the word forward."
Black woman, college student:
"I was blown away [by the event]. Blown away! I feel really excited about getting involved with the... revolution. I came here already feeling that I wanted to be involved. But now I feel really, really motivated."
"I think that, my generation, unfortunately, has become quite passive, and not involved and not active. I grew up in a very active, aggressive, progressive household. So it's difficult to be part of a generation that's not, that's lacking care and concern. But I guess it's gonna take someone like Bob Avakian to get the light under them, you know?"
COMMENTS FROM THE ARTISTS AND PARTICIPANTS:
"And what I think we're trying to do tonight, is to kind of inspire people to look at another way of attacking a situation that may seem dire, but there is a way out... I've always felt that art really is a way to inspire people. The beauty of art, whatever the genre, whether it's music, theater, film, dance, spoken word, art has a way of just really connecting with an audience, especially live performance. Live performance, the audience is really sharing that moment with the performers. Tonight is a very diverse, eclectic group of performers. And I think one thing these performers have in common is that we have a burning desire to really communicate with our audience and really express their frustration, and the pain and the suffering. And all good art really comes from that. So to really have a group of artists come together to express that is—it's amazing!"
reg e. gaines:
"... the artists here... got something constructive for this. Kind of like something that's really going to speak to the issues and what this event's about. But the improvisational aspect of it is all based on emotion of us being here doing this event. It isn't so much about, OK, I'm going to be brilliant tonight here, or she's going to sing this, and they're going to play that, it's going to be brilliant. But it's like, are your emotions being fueled by the theme? Can you comment on the theme in a way that's more beautiful than it is in the real world? Because that's what we're supposed to do as artists. So can we talk about revolution, each one of us in each one of these vignettes that we are involved in, can we speak about revolution in an artistic/cultural way that opens somebody's mind in the audience who's like, wait a minute, that's kind of dope... there's got to be a connection. And it'll make them listen."
"I think a lot of people understand that the world is in a very bad place right now, and I don't think we have to discuss that right now. What we need to discuss is what do you do about that? Is there a way out? How does that look and what is that? I've looked at a lot of different things and Bob Avakian's ideas make more sense in the world more than anything I've ever heard before."
Moist Paula Henderson:
"I'm all about making anything more fun. This is fun. So I kind of predict that everyone who's concerned is going to have a positive experience here tonight. And that will affect whatever happens tomorrow, next week, three months from now, as far as we're all concerned. I feel like a lot of serious political issues, movements, are devoid of celebration and so they get a bad rap in the world because it just seems like a drag, you know, honestly. And it doesn't have to be. People are people are people and everyone all over the planet likes to laugh and sing and dance and have music and like, you know, that's a real human thing. Throughout the ages of the human race everywhere. This thing, celebration. And maybe it's important to consider that it should always be included as the flip side of like more serious thought, as well. Because we are all humans."
"... what impressed me about Bob's work was an openness and a non-doctrinaire attitude. He always talks about a firm center and elasticity, and the fact that he talks about how revolutionaries have to have a poetic spirit. So I think freeing imagination is one reason we go into music, poetry, dance or whatever, and I really feel that the way he approaches things leaves a lot of things open for all kinds of possible syntheses and things to happen that you can't maybe pinpoint, but if we have a situation where people's imaginations can be unleashed, lord knows how things can evolve and come into being... So many different angles, through rhythm and dancing and through spoken word, which actually, even though poetry has an abstraction, so it's actually concrete language. And also I'm really touched by the letters from prisoners, because that's getting to the heart and soul of what the system can do to people, and how people can see some hope at the end of the tunnel or not, and what we're trying to speak to. So that type of letters from the prisoners is its own special type of poetry."
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