Mas Resistance: MA Graduates bring documentary to the Ealing Project
By Elise Czyzowska
28 November 2023
One of this year’s Master’s Projects, Mas Resistance is a visual arts project incorporating spoken word, video, music, and performance to capture, archive, and promote the dying art of Mas – storytelling through costume – in Notting Hill Carnival.
Born out of a connection during the MA Industry Project, the film received funding from Arts Council England, and features collaboration from multiple high-profile artists, including Vernon ‘Fellow’ Williams (Founding Member of Notting Hill Carnival), Allyson Williams MBE (Co-Founder of the Genesis Mas Band & Notting Hill Carnival Board Member), and Malika Booker (Forward Prize Winning Guyanese Poet).
This week, the film is screening at the Ealing project as part of a larger three-day exhibition of costume, poetry, and filmmaking. Ahead of the event, we spoke to Alex & Valentina to find out more…
Alex Urquhart (MA Directing)
What inspired the making of Mas Resistance?
Symone Williams (Executive Producer) and her family were the main inspiration throughout the project. Symone was educating me about her culture and then trusted me with its representation, and I found that to be incredibly brave and generous. Symone put in so much additional effort, on top of all her preparations for Carnival, in order for this documentary to be possible, and seeing her work so hard really set the standard for me and my efforts.
Notting Hill Carnival is constantly misrepresented in media as a dangerous event, and this is the result of racist media coverage. I wanted this film to combat those negative representations. Due to the events’ scale, its easy to miss the parade and therefore miss the cultural significance of Carnival’s history. Films can be powerful educators – I wanted the film to give some much-needed access to that culture.
How did you begin researching for the projects? Can you share some key influences?
It began with understanding the history of West Indian islands impacted by colonialism, following the journey from Trinidadian plantations to British streets. With this colonial legacy in mind, I was looking for more collaborative, less hierarchical creative models, and found out about concepts such as Community Co-Creation and Community Authorship. These models are all about sharing creative control, but also inviting the communities being represented to feedback on and influence their representation throughout the process.
The style of Mas Resistance is influenced by many practitioners and scholars – Isaac Julians Territories, John Akomfrah’s Handsworth Songs, for the documentary style, and people like Stuart Hall and bell hooks were essential for me to understand the tropes of how white societies typically represent black culture, and how to avoid slipping into those tropes.
Documentaries tend to want to be the definitive and complete version of events, but with Carnival, that isn’t possible or appropriate, as the experience of the event is contested and ever-evolving. As such, Mas Resistance doesn’t attempt to explain or define Carnival, but instead, to transmit how some parts of it feel.
Mas Resistance was screened at your Graduation Celebration last week – how did your time on MA Directing support the film?
My time on MA Directing significantly accelerated my development as a filmmaker, primarily through the sheer volume of shorts we were making. I completed seven shorts on my course, and these projects helped me to understand what is possible with limited time and resources – which turned out to be extremely valuable during this production.
Understanding structure and narrative was an early focus of the programme, and those lessons were essential during the editing process, as I had to find a way of whittling down hours of footage into a neat, coherent piece.
Plus, without the Industry Project, Mas Resistance would not exist. We were connected with Symone through this module, and began the chain reaction that led us to where we are now.
Valentina Kuplinova (MA Producing)
The project includes many high-profile artists. How did you secure their interest in the project?
We were extremely lucky to collaborate with several artists from the Carnival community for this project. Symone Williams, played a pivotal role in establishing those connections. Symone not only opened doors for us, but also introduced us to people she believed were essential to the project’s success.
Then, it was our job to engage those artists in our vision, and to build trusting relationships with them. Our interest was genuine, and I think people could feel that. We consistently demonstrated our commitment by going above and beyond, and we were prepared to help in any way we could.
For instance, I spent several days at the Mas camp, working alongside Symone and helping her finish the costumes in time for the Carnival. That’s the true essence of community involvement – we focused not only on our own project goals, but also contributed to the broader community activities.
As Producer, what were some of the key challenges of this project – and how did you overcome them?
Documentary production is inherently full of uncertainties. It’s not just the ultimate outcome of the filmed content that is unpredictable, but also the timeline of the production itself, which creates several challenges for a producer. Planning the who, what, and where, anticipating potential risks… sometimes it becomes impossible. Yet, it’s this demanding and adventurous nature of the format that I love and enjoy the most.
The Carnival itself posed the most significant personal challenge for my during the entire production, primarily due to my struggles with claustrophobia. The idea of filming at the event – which attracts more than a million participants each year – was overwhelming. In addition to ensuring the safety of my team, I felt responsible to let them know about my unpredictable reactions to large crowds. Admitting my vulnerability wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I was lucky to be with the people who took care of me when the panic attack happened.
The crew for Mas Resistance included 12 MetFilm School students – do you have any future plans for collaboration?
Yes! At the beginning of next year, we are starting the production of a feature documentary, which will be the continuation of Mas Resistance. Of course, the core team will remain the same: me, Alex, and our Director of Photography, Sameer Baria (MA Cinematography).
Seeing how the project has been evolving so far, I’m confident to say that there will be plenty more opportunities with the rest of the crew. It’s an experimental documentary, so something beautiful can happen at any moment, just like our studio shoot back in August where we had the chance to bring on more people from MetFilm School and create the space for their contributions.
Keep up with Mas Resistance…
If you’re not able to make it this Thursday, this screening definitely won’t be the last chance to catch Mas Resistance. Next, Valentina shared, ‘we plan to take our project to various film festivals around the country – and worldwide! We’re also asking people to support our fundraising campaign by donating to the link in our Instagram bio. All contributions will go towards covering licensing costs for songs and archive footage from the BFI used in the film.
‘If people aren’t able to donate, we’re asking them to support the project through sharing the campaign.’
You can find the link to donation – and stay updated about Mas Resistance – on their Instagram page @masresistance.