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Riot-hit London neighborhood turns to film

Thursday - 5/3/2012, 10:18am  ET

By JILL LAWLESS
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Isaac Densu lives in Broadwater Farm, a large, concrete public housing project in Tottenham, the gritty district where last year's British riots began. Unemployment is high and young people face many temptations to get into trouble.

But Densu thinks he knows what might help: A good movie.

The film-loving 26-year-old says watching movies can help his neighbors expand their horizons and embrace creativity rather than violence.

The idea was tested Wednesday, when hundreds of Broadwater Farm residents attended a free screening of "La Haine" ("Hate"), a powerful 1995 film about alienated youth on the impoverished high-rise fringes of Paris.

Some questioned the wisdom of showing a movie about brutality and gun violence in an area scarred by both. Not Densu, who helped organize the event.

"(I hope it'll be) a springboard for people to redirect the hate they feel for the establishment," he said.

"The main problem with disadvantaged areas is that they are little pockets that are disengaged from society," he added. "It's about breaking them out of that shell."

To most people in Britain, Broadwater Farm is a byword for urban deprivation. In 1985, it saw riots in which a policeman was stabbed to death. The clashes became an emblem of tensions between London police and the capital's black community.

It also was the home of Mark Duggan, the man whose fatal police shooting last August was the spark for riots that began a mile away in Tottenham and raged for four nights _ Britain's worst civil unrest in a generation.

Residents say despite the August riots, the area has improved immensely since 1985, its high levels of poverty accompanied by a strong sense of community.

Still, there was some trepidation about showing a film that _ while vivid, punchy and at times funny _ offers a beak view of urban deprivation.

The film's director, Mathieu Kassovitz, said the concerns were misplaced. He said the film was being shown "not to raise chaos but to raise consciousness."

Kassovitz, who was in his 20s when he made "La Haine," said he understood the anger of the young rioters who looted and set fire to shops in London and other cities, and felt they should not simply be called criminals.

"There is a political meaning behind it," Kassovitz told The Associated Press from Los Angeles. "You don't do that (riot) just to get a flatscreen TV. You break the windows of the shops that represent the windows of the society we are living in."

In the end, a festive atmosphere prevailed at the screening. Residents packed the community center for the movie, preceded by beat poets, break dancers, BMX bikers and graffiti artists spray-painting canvasses near the screen.

The audience watched intently as the black-and-white film unspooled, to a thundering live accompaniment by the band Asian Dub Foundation.

Resident Gary Williams said any event that involved local people should be welcomed.

"A lot of people say they are going to do stuff and get people involved from the community, but they never do," he said.

Over the next few days, organizers are holding screenings of "La Haine" around Britain. In France, it will play Friday in the Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen before a downtown screening on Saturday, the eve of the country's presidential runoff vote.

At Broadwater Farm, Densu plans to hold regular movie screenings, including ones different in tone from the hard-hitting "La Haine." He mentioned the musical "42nd Street" and the wartime romance "Casablanca."

"It's a film about love," he said of the Humphrey Bogart classic. "We love here also."

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Jill Lawless can be reached at http://twitter.com/JillLawless


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)