Dir. Agnes Varda, 1968, 28 min, Viewed via MUBI
So today I popped my Agnes Varda cherry! Varda is an important figure in the French New Wave, and has directed both fiction and documentary films over the course of her long and storied career. Black Panthers is pretty far from being one of her most well-known pieces of work, but you have to start somewhere. This is a small but involving picture of a nascent political movement.
Varda visited the Panthers during their protests over co-founder Huey P. Newton’s arrest for the murder of police officer John Frey. The “Free Huey” campaign involved rallies and much speechifying, and Varda’s crew was there to capture it. She uses the events as a framework around which to summarize the key ideologies of the Black Panthers. Since it was made for a European audience, there’s also a good deal of explanation about the racial situation in America at the time.
If I’d gone into this movie blind, and then was told afterwards that it was made by a prominent French New Wave auteur, I’m not sure I’d believe you. There’s little that’s stylistically adventurous about the doc. In fact, it’s almost exceedingly straightforward. Not that that’s a negative, of course. Black Panthers is an interesting time capsule movie, a look at what a small bit of history was like, as seen from the point of view of those who lived it.