Britain, late-1970s. Punk is exploding. The country is deeply divided over immigration. The National Front, a far-right and fascist political party, is gaining strength as politicians like Enoch Powell push a xenophobic agenda. Outraged by a racist speech from Eric Clapton, music photographer Red Saunders writes a letter to the music press, calling for rock to be a force against racism. NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds all publish the letter. Flooded with responses, Red discovers many share his views. Teaming up with like-minded creatives Roger Huddle, Kate Webb, Syd Shelton and Australian graphic designer Ruth Gregory, the team bands together to create Rock Against Racism (RAR) and a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding. Speaking directly to the youth, Temporary Hoarding reports stories and issues that the mainstream British media ignores, like immigration, the Catholic side of the Northern Ireland conflict, and the police’s controversial “suspected persons” (sus) powers. They give a voice to the voiceless. The National Front begins to strike back, committing acts of violence against RAR supporters and petrol-bombing their HQ. Despite this, RAR spreads virally across the UK and into Europe, becoming a grassroots youth movement. The Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson and other top bands of the day jump on board. White Riot is a moment in time when music changed the world. When a generation challenged the status quo. It’s Woodstock meets the March on Washington, punk-style.
"HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... The film smartly marries present day interviews with stellar period video footage and photographs, often using cartoon-style effects as scene transitions. In addition, the viewer gets to see letters, literature, and pamphlets from the RAR movement that have been preserved for over forty years... White Riot is an essential film for any academic library. It’s themes of social progress, racism, human rights, and culture are universal for a multitude of disciplines." - EMRO
"This short but relentless documentary deftly chronicles this historic concert and some of the powerful performances of Britain’s leading left-leaning punk bands—high-energy, hungry young groups at the height of their powers...What’s more, it’s also fascinating to behold DIY political activism and concert promotion in the pre-Internet age, requiring much more manual legwork than today’s detached Twitter- and Facebook-driven organizational efforts...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED" - Video Librarian
Selected for Video Librarian’s list of Best Documentaries 2021
Sound: 5.1 & 2.0 stereo
- "Incendiary...A pitch-perfect, punk AF documentary [that] doubles as a contemporary call to arms."
- "A thrilling, incendiary look at punk’s influence on politics."
- "Rubika Shah’s smart, spirited feature debut is a whistle-stop tour of a DIY uprising."
- "An engaging historical story with timely contemporary echoes."
- "White Riot thrives on cheerleading for punk, contrasting the fleapit venues where it all began with the point when a DIY anti-racist group’s campaign could capture the attention of the greater public. There’s something of Asif Kapadia in the film’s collage of different layers of archive material and its way of making history vivid. "
- "...highly engaging and suddenly very relevant. The treasure trove of archive is variously appalling and inspiring...."
- "Shah’s film crackles with a raucous energy. Weaving together music, politics, animation and history, White Riot carries a punk infused swagger that is infectious. Filled with engaging interviews with RAR staff, musicians such as Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, Dennis Bovell of Matumbi, and archival footage of The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band to name a few, the film is a brisk and informative journey through a dark period in the UK’s recent history. Shah’s documentary will not only please those unfamiliar with the punk scene, but also those looking for stories of average people challenging the status quo."
- "White Riot is a welcome tribute to RAR’s first, most vibrant chapter— an extraordinary fusion of culture and politics that changed society for the better."
- "There are a surprising number of resonant connections between the 70’s English multicultural anti-racism movement and the Black Lives Matter protest."
- "...a compelling ride through a pivotal and often terrifying period of British history. It’s masterfully crafted with a well-chosen soundtrack and vibrant graphics...."
- "An excellent brief documentary about a heroic grassroots political movement whose importance reveals itself more clearly in retrospect with every year that passes."
- "White Riot left me with a sense of hope that I haven’t felt for a long time. The barrage of bad news that follows us at every waking hour, and the dominance of racist rhetoric, can make us feel powerless. But if there’s any one message to be taken from Shah’s film, it’s the belief that if a group of punks and reggae fans could unite to fight back against hatred in the 70s, anyone could do the same now."
- "...genuinely thrilling, informative and undeniably timely."
- "Rubika Shah’s White Riot is an engaging and important study of Rock Against Racism, a movement formed in 1976 in response to the rising racism of the British political and social landscapes. In febrile times such as these, it’s difficult to imagine White Riot being any more relevant."
- "White Riot is a timely reminder of the power of music and the dangers of leaving fascism unchallenged. "
- "CRITIC'S PICK...heartening and headbanging."
- "Rock Against Racism doc ‘White Riot’ is essential 2020 viewing."
- "White Riot is a timely history lesson. It demonstrates the possibilities when enough energy is focused in a positive direction, using the eternal language of youth: music. Maybe something similar could happen here."
- "In more ways than one, White Riot delivers a welcome blast from the past."
Awards & Recognition
BFI London Film Festival
Special Mention of the Generation 14plus Jury
Berlin Int'l. Film Festival
Golden Heynal - Special Mention
Krakow Film Festival