If Not Now

Sunday Night 12:10

Jill Daniels | 
2023 | 
United Kingdom | 
15:00 mins | 
If Not Now is a documentary essay film addressed to my Jewish great-great grandmother, Rebecca, who lived and died in Brick Lane in London’s East End. Her death haunts my memories. Brick Lane has been home to successive immigrant communities, Huguenot weavers, Jews, Bengalis; today it is semi-gentrified with hipster clothes shops, street food, beigel bakeries, Indian restaurants and sari shops. In 1978, Bengali workers organised the first black strike in England and protested against racist attacks and murder by the fascist National Front. Left-wing parties were divided over strategies of resistance to the National Front. The film explores the assertion that in opposition to notions of waste, and dispersal, there is a grand circularity, of nothing ever, ever going away; that resistance to fascism in the past may be a catalyst for resistance today.

If Not Now, by Jill Daniels, engages us in the tumultuous political history of Brick Lane taking us through three distinct eras, the 1910s, 1970s and 2020s. The film’s appeal and political nature lies in its mix of forms, combining diaristic readings voiceover, archival footage and sound and slow long takes of present day Brick Lane. The result is a collage of politics of space and place.

Brick Lane is a space that is inherently political, indelibly marked by a history of organising and as a haven/hell for the oppressed. Historically many oppressed groups have lived in the East End (Hugenots, Jews and Bengalis). Among these groups is Daniels’ great-great-grandmother, a Jewish Lithuanian who settled in Brick Lane in the 1910s. Their is a poignancy to the representation of Daniels’ great-great grandmother. Void of historical record, deemed to be and lost to the unimportant void of history, Daniels reads a diary entry addressed to her ascendant. Empathy and imagination seem the cornerstones of a political and ethical leftist position here. Moreover, the space of Brick Lane, in the 70s, was a tumultuous battleground for resistance by black and Bengali workers against poor working conditions and of the organised left against the National Front.

In the present day, marked by the long, slow images of Brick Lane, this history seems lost. As Daniels’ images tell us, the space is marked by a recent semi-gentrification, a process that has minimised the Bengali and Jewish presence in the neighbourhood and effaced histories of resistance. Indeed, the process of gentrification seems to mark a new and strange conglomeration of fascism and class.

The film’s stance of action lies in its detailing of a history of political action against the far right. Through the ANL (Anti-Nazi League) and other socialist organisations, strategies of resistance are given to us by Daniels. These implication of the film is of the need to act again o