Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché 2021
Celeste Bell, Paul Sng / 89 mins / English / Rating 15
Poly Styrene was the first woman of colour in the UK to front a successful rock band. She introduced the world to a new sound of rebellion, using her unconventional voice to sing about identity, consumerism, postmodernism, and everything she saw unfolding in late 1970s Britain, with a rare prescience. As the frontwoman of X-Ray Spex, the Anglo-Somali punk musician was also a key inspiration for the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements.
But the late punk maverick did not just leave behind an immense cultural footprint. She was survived by a daughter, Celeste Bell, who became the unwitting guardian of her mother’s legacy and her mother’s demons. Misogyny, racism, and mental illness plagued Poly’s life, while their lasting trauma scarred Celeste’s childhood and the pair’s relationship.
Featuring unseen archive material and rare diary entries narrated by Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga, this documentary follows Celeste as she examines her mother’s unopened artistic archive and traverses three continents to better understand Poly the icon and Poly the mother.
Winner of two British Independent Film Awards, including Best Documentary.
Content Notes: This film discusses mental health issues that some may find distressing.
About the DirectorS
Celeste Bell spent her earliest years living on a Hare Krishna commune in the Hertfordshire countryside with her mother, Poly Styrene. After completing her degree from Queen Mary University of London, Celeste settled in Madrid, where she worked as a teacher and formed ska-punk band Debutant Disco. After finishing a Master’s degree in Barcelona, Celeste returned to London to work alongside Zoë Howe on Day Glo! The Poly Styrene Story, published by Omnibus Press in 2019. They then joined forces with Paul Sng to make Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, a film to accompany the book. Celeste currently manages her mother’s artistic estate, co-curating an exhibition alongside Mattie Loyce at the 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning Centre in Brixton. She plans to tour the exhibition internationally and is currently working on her project with the working title of Mr. Gorbachev and the Krishna Kids.
Paul Sng is a British Chinese filmmaker whose work focuses on people who challenge the status quo. Sng’s films are driven by methodical research, creative storytelling, and a collaborative approach that strives for inclusivity and diversity in people and subjects. His films have been broadcast on UK national television and screened internationally. They include Invisible Britain, Dispossession, and Social Housing, Social Cleansing. Underpinning all of Sng’s work is an eye for strong characters and compelling narratives, all the while working to establish and maintain trustful relationships with people in front of and behind the camera.
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AiM x Decolonise Fest Punk Mixtape
We have partnered with Decolonise Fest to present a playlist of African and Black diaspora punk bands. The festival is an annual London-based, volunteer-run, non-profit DIY punk festival collectively organised by and for punx of colour. Their collective is made up of activists, militant community organisers, musicians, and artists that came together to hold their first festival in 2017.
Decolonise Fest centres the experiences of punx of colour, who we define this as people who are descended (through one or both parents) from the original inhabitants of Africa, Caribbean, Asia, Middle East, Latin America, Australasia, North America, and the islands of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean, and of Romany Gypsy or Traveller heritage.