Synopsis: The struggles for justice by the families of people killed by the police in the UK
The silence over the police killings of Black people is now broken. What happens next? Since 1969, over two thousand people have died at the hands of the police in the UK. Shootings, chokeholds, batons, gassing, suffocation, restraint and brutal beatings are some of the methods used. The violence is uncontrollable. Inevitably police officers involved are not convicted for these deaths. In this documentary, the families of the victims of police violence demand justice. They ask why society ignores human rights abuses by agents of the state. Silence is also violence.
Ultraviolence has been released 19 years after Injustice, the 2001 film that broke the story of deaths in police custody in the UK, with a focus on the deaths of black people, and without a single successful prosecution for these killings. Ultraviolence demands to know what has changed since then? Silence is violence.
One of the clearest pieces of evidence in the new film is the escalation of violence, culpability, neglect and collusion within the state. Our research for Injustice revealed that over 1000 people had died after coming into contact with the police during the 30-year period we investigated. In the 20 years since then there has been another 1000 deaths. The kill rate is rising. They should also hear, as is presented in Ultraviolence, the words of Frank Ogboru, the killing of whom predates Floyd with the cries of “I can’t breathe” as he died on the streets of South East London, physically restrained by the Metropolitan Police.
This blow by blow account investigates a number of killings and follows the relentless campaign of the families as they find out how their loved ones died at the hands of police officers. Powerful exclusive footage filmed and edited over a decade exposes how the political system condones the killings and fails the families in case after case. Shocking imagery of the deaths bears witness to the brutality of state violence. The film provides evidence that an accused killer in a police uniform is not judged by the same standards as an ordinary citizen. This immunity gives the police a license to kill.
The film exposes a systemic pattern of state sponsored criminality by the police and reflects on the fight for the truth of the killings in a country that delivers injustice at home and violence abroad. Intersections between the campaigns of the families for justice and the broader movement against the wars that the UK pursues are reflected on as part of a collective memory of resistance.
Ultraviolence documents the terrible loss of life at the hands of the state and it’s attempts to cover up these killings. It also offers hope for the future. The families of the dead want justice for the crimes of state violence. They will not stop until they have got it.
Koutaiba Al Janabi
When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for a variety of reasons, we can no longer breathe – Frantz Fanon
Ultraviolence is the second instalment of a trilogy of documentary features on resistance to police killings in the UK. The first part, Injustice, on its release in 2001 was met with threats by police officers whose actions were investigated in the film. Led by the Police Federation, who claimed that the film was libellous and was also an incitement to riot, these insidious claims were the basis of the attempts for them to threaten cinemas and to also kill the film. To cut a very long story short we undertook an underground screening campaign which ended the threats and catapulted the film to world attention. Injustice had strong impact in Festivals with cinema and international sales. Peter Bradshaw, Guardian Film Critic called Injustice “the most important British documentary of my professional lifetime” so it’s a film with some pedigree. Each film stands alone and also pushes forwards.
When we began to think about Ultraviolence we were aware that our previous work had made political impact. How could we ensure that could happen again? We wanted to find a new creative way of dealing with the issue and not to just repeat the success of the past. The long period of production of the film, over a decade of filming and editing, allowed for important influences that make Ultraviolence both current and reflective. The film references James Baldwin’s essay The Fire Next Time and pays homage to the thoughtful essay films of Chris Marker and John Akomfrah. The personal framing of the film, a letter to our children explaining the failures and success of previous decades, combines with Migrant Media’s painful cinema verite approach, a camera that matches and parallels the heartfelt obstinacy of the families as they search for justice. The reality we imagined has now come to pass.
The polices attempts to suppress Injustice gave us incredible profile but it was also ignored by some because of its radical approach. Almost two decades later we are in a very different period where the violent actions of the police have become centre stage. Ultraviolence captures the current zeitgeist, in our work we have been saying black lives matter for decades and we welcome the international movement to call out racist police violence that has caused the deaths of citizens, including in the UK. It’s been a long hard road to complete this film. Dare we hope that it will be seen, heard, shared? There is no doubt this is a film of the moment as well as of the future.
Ultraviolence is a critique of state violence as well as a wider challenge that gives evidence to the notion ‘silence is violence’ – a slogan seen in demonstrations across the world. In the current pandemic and with the growing influence of the right-wing in power and the escalation of anti-blackness and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Ultraviolence takes a stand. We hope that some of the images and words in the film can inspire people to resist the attacks on our humanity and can offer some hope for the future.
Migrant Media is a collective of radical film makers embedded with communities of social and political interest and from black and migrant backgrounds. Our work has a focus on race and class with a central narrative of resistance. The final part of the trilogy is currently in production.
Ken Fero is a filmmaker, activist and educator. He is a founding member of Migrant Media which has produced a number of hard-hitting documentaries examining community responses to issues of racism and resistance including Sweet France (52 minutes 1992) winner of Mentione Speciale at the Images du Monde Arabe, Paris and the Milano Province Prize 5th Festival of African Cinema and the compelling Justice for Joy (52 minutes 1995). He has used film to campaign on issues of policing and human rights abuses in Europe and the resistance to them and directed and produced the radical and controversial cinema documentary Injustice (98 minutes 2001) which won many awards including Best Documentary – BFM London Film Festival 2002 and Best Documentary (Human Rights) One World Film Festival 2003. His current feature film Ultraviolence (2020) was officially selected in the BFI London Film Festival for its World Premier to critical acclaim.
Who Polices the Police (2012)
Defeat of The Champion (2011)
Justice Denied (1995)
Tasting Freedom (1994)
Sweet France (1992)
After the Storm (1992)
Britain’s Black Legacy (1991)
Germany – The Other Story (1991)