I can still feel the tension and the fear of the nights of the Tottenham riots. Although it was five years ago, the dread of summer 2011 has never left me.
The sudden outburst of violence and random aggression had many north Londoners believing the mob was coming right to their street. Our shops pulled their shutters down and locked up by 3pm.
In the end, they didn’t march down our quiet road but they sure mashed up Tottenham and a fair bit of Hackney, as well as having it kick off in other cities such as Manchester. Those nights showed how thin a line we tread between chaos and civility, how delicate the balance of society is, how fragile the peace between the divides.
The Hard Stop**** isn’t really about the riots but about two men caught up in them, one of whom, Marcus, is accused by police of actually instigating the whole thing. He and his childhood friend Kurtis were close friends of Mark Duggan, the man who police stopped ( a “hard stop”) in his car and shot dead, believing him to be armed. He wasn’t.
As Duggan’s family, friends and community gathered by the police station to seek answers, Marcus may have thrown a stone. That’s what sparked the worst riot of this century.
George Amponsah gets close to Marcus and Kurtis to tell a story of black male life in modern Britain. It’s a film about chances, culture, prejudice, destiny, loyalty, choices and community. He traces the simmering tensions back to 1985 and Broadwater Farm riots when PC Keith Blakelock was murdered by another Tottenham mob – Marcus and Kurtis were just kids back then, but have never been allowed to forget.
This is a difficult film at times. It mumbles and rambles and our sympathies as viewers shift uncomfortably. As the documentary maker, Amponsah gets distracted by the continued quest for justice for Mark Duggan, a quest which similarly distracts the whole community still and seems to be preventing Marcus and Kurtis from getting on with their own lives. Just when you think they’ve got out of their past, Broadwater Farm and their old gang life pulls them back in.
Ultimately though, I can’t think of a more important or personal film made about black culture in the UK. The energy, the passion and the empathy are faultless, and the capturing of street language fascinating, the nailing of machismo and male pride absolutely riveting.
The Hard Stop makes for compelling, compulsive viewing, proudly standing out as one of the films of the year.