Mark Duggan and the London riots inspire documentary maker George Amponsah
- Credit: Archant
Bridget Galton talks to the filmmaker about his film on the Mark Duggan case which sparked the London riots of 2011
Like many of us, George Amponsah watched the August 2011 riots unfold on the news.
But as they spread around the capital, the documentary maker left his home to witness London in flames.
“I live just around the corner from Clapham, I thought I might as well see it live and direct.
“Five minutes over the bridge and there it was, burning buildings,” he says.
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Amponsah is old enough to recall the race riots of the 80s, which were sparked by similar tensions between communities and police.
“The Broadwater Farm riot in 1985 sent shockwaves through the city.
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“Even though I grew up in another part of London I remember thinking ‘Oh my god I am glad I don’t live there.’”
He was also aware of Mark Duggan “the human life that was the spark of the 2011 riots.”
So when one of Tottenham’s community leaders offered an introduction to two of Duggan’s childhood friends, Amponsah had the subject of his next documentary.
Filmed over 28 months, The Hard Stop includes interviews with the Duggan family, but is less about the man shot by police on August 4, 2011, and more about the efforts of Marcus and Kurtis to escape their upbringing on Broadwater Farm.
It also brings into sharp focus the decades-long breakdown of trust between police and Tottenham’s black community, and the legacy of the killing of PC Keith Blakelock.
“I was really fascinated to make a documentary about people at the epicentre.
“People who had a genuine reason for rioting.” says Amponsah who first had to gain the trust of a duo who instinctively mistrusted cameras.
“The process of making films is the relationships you build with the people in your film.
“It can take time. When I first met them I didn’t have a camera or even a pen, I asked Marcus to tell his story and he started crying.”
Having previously worked on TV shows about gangs and tough men, Amponsah recognised the type.
“I knew these gentlemen, there was recognition there. But what I found unfamiliar was a willingness to show vulnerability – what some might perceive to be weakness and others perceive to be courage.
“I found that fascinating.”
The Hard Stop shows the friends driving around, wearing archetypal black hoodies, talking about their pasts of drug dealing and violence.
Marcus is on bail for starting the riot and faces 10 years in prison.
“He was seen by the judiciary as the instigator” says Amponsah.
“At the time people were being sent away for two years for stealing a packet of chewing gum so he thought they were going to throw the book at him.
“He had a genuine reason for wanting to be on camera, he wanted to set the record straight about who Mark Duggan was.”
As the film progresses, it is moving to see the struggle of ex cocaine dealer Kurtis and former gang member Marcus to live a good life.
Knocked back for a job at Tesco, Kurtis’ relationship is put under strain when he’s forced to take work at an East Anglian call centre.
Marcus had left Tottenham two years before the riots and converted to Islam, but was pulled back into his old life by the death of his friend.
“The element of inquiry was these characters are a reflection of Mark Duggan.
“They come from the same background. If we find out what they are about, then by proxy we find out about the man whose death sparked the riots.”
In documentaries he says “character is relayed through action” but with Marcus and Kurtis, “truth is relayed by their actions”.
“Their view of Mark was always going to be subjective but over the span of two years filming their lives you see a certain truth. They definitely have the capacity to change and I think he had that capacity too.
“He made some wrong choices in his life. Enough to put himself in the position he found himself in, but did he deserve to die?”
Amponsah was still filming in January 2014 when a jury ruled Duggan’s death ‘lawful’ even though the 29-year-old did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot.
“It comes down to the moment of police decision-making.
“Police will say correctly that lay people can never understand what is involved in making the snap decision as to whether to pull the trigger.
“What we have is a matter of perception (armed policeman) V53 was found to have had an honestly held belief that he was in danger at the moment Mark exited the vehicle.
But that honestly held belief has a whole set of factors: prejudices, preconceived ideas.”
The problem with the hard stop procedure, says Amponsah, and “intelligence led” armed vehicle response operations, is officers already have a sense of the threat posed by the person inside the vehicle - in this case a suspicion that Duggan was transporting a gun with intent to use it.
“They can then exit the vehicle carrying a hot dog and get shot.”
For a film-maker whose previous work has included features on Ghanaian boxers and a Congolese singer, Amponsah’s latest film is more personal.
“I wanted to make a film not about somewhhere in Africa but about my home. Being black and British I was searching around.
“They say you don’t choose books, they choose you. Hard Stop and Mark Duggan felt like that, to me it was a story that needed to be told.”
And he adds: “Going back to the 80s was almost a kneejerk reaction, these guys were born and raised on Broadwater Farm in the shadow of the events of 1985 that left a psychic scar on the community.
“Unfortunately those scars don’t heal, wounds get reopened and there is another explosion.
“2011 laid bare divisions in our society just as the recent Bexit vote did.
“There’s political winds of change blowing through this city. There’s a lot of pissed off people and 2011 is not a full stop on civil disturbances.”
George Amponsah, Marcus Knox Hooke and Kurtis Henville attend a Q&A at the Phoenix Cinema East Finchley on July 18 at 6pm