Fahim Alam is an Oxford law graduate, turned filmmaker. Fahim was arrested and imprisoned during the 2011 London riots. He decided to tell his story in the self-funded documentary Riots Reframed. Currently touring his film around the country and abroad, he took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the film and the challenges of making Riots Reframed.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
I was arrested for ‘violent disorder’ in August 2011 during riots in London, then was refused bail and spent six weeks in prison on remand. After appealing the decision to remand me in custody, and being released subject to an ankle-tag and electronically monitored curfew, I spent six months on bail awaiting trial. During this time, I had already developed a relationship with the media. Tabloids and broadsheets alike had reported my story and the BBC and other channels approached me with offers to take part, present, or be interviewed for documentaries. I decided to reject these proposals and produce my own film despite not having the skills, knowledge or experience, let alone many resources. My aim was to intercept the narrative of the power-structure through framing voices of resistance, basing their analysis on structural, historical and global oppression, in an artistic piece of propaganda. I had already filmed most of the documentary by the time I went to trial in March 2013 when I was acquitted after a two-day trial by jury. This gave me further strength to complete the documentary and launch it to the world via dozens of local, national and international screenings.
Did you have an idea of what kind of film you wanted to make?
I’d like to say that I had ‘a vision’, which of course, I did, but it’s important to say that the journey created the film and not vice versa. I always knew that I’d be making something that united particular voices towards a resistant discourse, but I didn’t know what the final piece would actually look like. The reality is that the journey bred the type of film that it became, and every component of that journey added energy, knowledge and so much more to the film. Much of my own discovery, development, relationships and so on is intertwined with the story of this documentary. A lot of energy and emotion has gone into its production and dissemination. I hope that the end product and legacy is something which demonstrates how knowledge, poetic art, and resistance might be fused into a digital piece that can be used to bring people together either physically or ideologically.
What kind of research did you do?
I attended dozens of events, talks and so on; watched a lot of videos on the internet; talked to loads of people; conducted extended interviews with the participants in the film; and generally immersed myself in the historical and present ‘riots discourse’. The interviews themselves amount to hours of footage with authorities speaking on police, racism, war, history, resistance and so much more in great detail, and each one of these severely disrupted and built my knowledge. I did do some online and paper research, but this documentary is not heavily research based. Well, certainly not in the conventional sense of ‘research’. Again, much of the journey exhibited a domino effect that led me from one sphere to another.
What kind of funding did you receive?
I didn’t receive any funding to make the film. I bought a cheap camera, lens and tripod with my own money, and borrowed some money to buy some parts for a computer to edit on. My friend put the computer together for me and I hooked it up to a five-year-old screen I already had to complete the machine.
Did you learn anything new about the riots, while making this documentary?
I probably learnt most of what I know about riots from making this documentary. I thought I had a pretty good grasp beforehand, but it’s inevitable that the journey has shaped what I know and don’t know.
Was there ever a point you thought this project would not be completed?
Along the way, there were many points at which I had problems. I still do. But not completing it was never a real option. I’ve had everything from my computer crashing and being out of use for months, to white academics undermining my credibility and knowledge at screenings, but getting the film made and circulated through a strategy of penetration has made sure that at every stage there is a sense of militant relentlessness invoked to push forward an underdeveloped narrative.