Following our annual audio funding pitch as part of this year’s Open City Documentary Festival at the Regent Street Cinema, The Whickers hosted the world premiere of Isis Thompson‘s RAFA-winning documentary ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green… and Black’. The piece was devised as a live performance in collaboration with sound artist and composer Axel Kacoutié and explores Isis’s relationship to climate activism and diversity issues within the environmental movement. The audience are taken on her journey towards becoming a more involved activist, through discussions with activists trying to tackle the systemic issue of racism in environmental groups; a disappointing and exclusionary Extinction Rebellion action; and even a trip to the slightly disturbing ‘Tank Room’ at the Natural History Museum. All expertly weaved together with sound design and composition by Axel.
Following her performance, Isis sat down with The Whickers’ Consultant Editor Jane Mote for a discussion about the making of her RAFA-winning documentary. Jane began by asking Isis exactly how her doc had developed since her initial pitch in 2018, which focused more generally on her lack of activism and motivation to follow in the footsteps of her ancestor, civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.
Isis replied: “So I did start making that one. And basically what happened was, I got side-tracked by what was happening [with climate activism]. It was the first thing I did after winning the pitch. [A friend said] ‘Let’s go to this meeting for this environmental group’ … And then I thought ‘Okay, this is who I’ve got so far’. And I stuck with it. And then I was just like, what is the problem here? Like, really? What is the problem? As time went on, it became more obvious. That’s what I wanted to make the thing about. And then it was also the thing that wasn’t at the time being talked about. It’s talked about a lot now. But a year ago, people were just like, ‘Let’s save the planet!’, regardless of anything.”
Jane asked Isis whether she thought she had successfully managed to become an activist.
Isis: “Yes. I mean, I think I’ve been a sort of fraudulent activist in the past where I would go along to things and observe things and record them and film them and… I don’t feel that I need to hide behind a process anymore. I’m just doing it now. It feels great.”
Before opening up the discussion to questions from the audience, Jane asked what Isis hopes will happen with her audio documentary.
Isis: “I hope that it gets picked up and put somewhere. It’s just such a joy to be able to make something that’s fully funded and with no pressure. No pressure and no obligation… just to make it freely. And as it comes, it felt really great. Particularly great to be able to work with Axel, who basically took a thing that was quite good or fine, and just made it a billion times better.”
During the open questions, one audience member asked whether there was a period where Isis didn’t really know what she was making yet and at what point she realised the final form her project would take.
Isis: “Oh, yeah, totally. I think it was about February/March that I thought ‘I think this is what it’s going to be about’ – because no one’s really talking about this. And this is the thing that’s bugging me about being in these spaces. I’d also very early on [recorded] the first protest scene [in which a Muslim activist is heckled]. The person who gets on the podium to say ‘We’re working on our diversity issue’ is Gail Bradbook, who started XR. So this is the absolute beginning of where they’re saying ‘We’re doing this and we know we’ve got a problem’. And here we are nearly a year later and they haven’t quite solved that fully.”
Another audience member asked whether Isis had experienced any pushback from people of colour within the green space.
Isis: “I think that there has been. One of the things Irmani [activist featured in the documentary] says, was about what was happening while being part of Black Lives Matter. She was surprised that some people of colour were like, ‘What are you doing?’ – because they were being arrested for environmental campaigning. People didn’t always think that it was the right thing to do. For some people it didn’t make sense. But I personally think that Black Lives Matter UK were ahead of their time in terms of bringing these issues together… social justice issues and environmental issues are one and the same. So yes, there is some resistance… but I think we’re getting to a point where people are opening up to not siloing these issues up in the same way.”
Finally, Jane closed the discussion by asking Isis whether she has been back to an XR protest or meeting to see what has been happening with them recently.
Isis: “I did. I went to a protest with XR Youth and I spoke to those them. Because to me, they feel like the most interesting. They’re creating a space that I feel like I could be in, but I’m too old. I think there is definitely something there. When I have interviewed some members of XR who are of colour they were talking about the issues that they have rubbing up against the older XR members, who are predominantly white. [They have found themselves having to] explain things and call them out and things like that… But what kind of an existence is that? When you’re constantly having to explain to older white people why you don’t want to get arrested or why what they’re doing is racist, whether they mean it or not.”