Mixed Media: NI’s 2017 highlights
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (NI 500) was a magnificent drama about a boy growing up gay in Miami, who ends up dealing drugs and whose only real friend gets back in touch. It was about a life of anguish and withdrawal, but with, finally, the possibility of fellowship, intimacy and happiness.
A Quiet Passion (NI 501), by Terence Davies, depicted the poet Emily Dickinson – a smart, funny, caring young woman, so full of life – buried by loneliness and the expectations of her time and place.
In Between (NI 505), a splendid debut feature by Maysaloun Hamoud, told the story of three young Palestinian women, from several cultures, sharing one flat. Poignant, impressive, fierce and tender.
Rahul Jain’s doc Machines (NI 503) went into a Gujarat textile factory. This unforgettable fly-on-the-wall doc followed, showed, listened – and depicted an exploitation that has tentacles reaching far into a shopping centre near you.
From Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda finally getting the credit that’s due her on The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop, NI 502) to some blistering post-Trump truths from Algiers on The Underside of Power (Matador, NI 503), it’s been a good year for musicians urging a necessary change of global direction.
Economic Partnership Agreement (Pingipung Records, NI 508) from Sven Kacirek and Daniel Mburu Muhuni examines how the terms of global trade trample the weaker partner (in this case, Kenya): it is a textbook for bringing together the power of music and of testimony.
It was environmental concerns that motivated Saltland’s A Common Truth (Constellation, NI 501) and gave this album its devastating power. Off-stage, its cellist-composer Rebecca Foon (right) is an ecological activist; on stage, she conjures up wild and elegiac soundscapes of the land that now faces such great danger. Easily the record of the year.
Oceans of ink have been spilled telling the story of the 1917 Russian Revolution. But China Miéville’s October (Verso, NI 502) stands out, with a narrative that bowled along, offering insights into this hinge-moment of history, refreshingly free of sectarian bile. He threw new light on some hoary questions and even managed to gesture towards glimmers of lessons learned for our current generation.
Swedish author Elisabeth Äsbrink was also in historical mode and her 1947 – when now begins (Scribe, NI 508) was an original, highly readable snapshot of a ‘seminal’ year that, she contends, shapes our ‘now’.
In terms of fiction, The White Book (Portobello Books, NI 507) was Korean novelist Han Kang’s worthy successor to Human Acts, exploring similar themes of loss and memory, in a deeply personal way with which we can all identify.
By turn heartbreaking and humorous, The Gurugu Pledge (&Other Stories NI 506) by Equatorial Guinean novelist Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, is a work of fiction right on the frontline of the refugee crisis and a stinging and necessary rebuke to those who believe that walls and fences are a solution rather than a shameful reminder of abject failure.