News Story

  • Film premiere looks at 1985 Handsworth Riots through powerful poems and rare archive photography
  • The Tiny Spark directed by celebrated artist Pogus Caesar
  • Powerful poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah features throughout
  • Free-to-attend screening creates immersive experience
Black and white photo of Pogus Caesar and Benjamin Zephaniah standing looking at camera.
Credit: © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive/Artimage/DACS.

One of the most traumatic events in post-war Britain – the 1985 Handsworth Riots – is the subject of a free film screenings at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum on Wednesday, 6 September and Wednesday 18 October.

‘The Tiny Spark’ is a free-to-attend, immersive 17-minute premiere, utilising the poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah and mesmerising artworks from the film’s director, Pogus Caesar.

The Tiny Spark is a single channel projection reimagining the 1985 Handsworth Riots and takes the viewer on a journey that bears witness to those fateful days on the streets of inner-city Birmingham.

Haunting and emotive performances come from spoken word artists Juice Aleem, Chauntelle Madondo and Samiir Saunders. The film features a specially composed soundscape by the eclectic underground artist TaberCayon. The immersive element prior to the screening will include, multi projectors, media coverage of the riots pinned together by a soundtrack of Jamaican Dub music.

Caesar and Zephaniah’s influential work spans more than four decades. With a collaboration that enhances both genres, frames and pulls focus on the devastating riots in Handsworth.

The Tiny Spark is a visually striking, bold and accessible intervention that can stimulate and encourage conversation and the Thinktank screenings on 6 September and 18 October will feature a Q&A discussion about Caesar’s work.

Caesar is a conceptual artist utilising multiple media. He was born in St Kitts, West Indies, and grew up in Birmingham. In 2018 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Birmingham City University for his outstanding contribution to the visual arts.

He has documented prominent figures and historical events such as the Handsworth Riots in 1985, a significant period of social unrest. He often reworks 35mm negatives into new forms, challenging the notion of religion, sex, history and identity from a Black British perspective.

In 2004, he established OOM Gallery Archive in Birmingham, which represents his photographic archive worldwide.

Alongside his work as a photojournalist and artist, Caesar has also had a successful career in television as a series producer and director for Central Television, Carlton Television and BBC.

Pogus Caesar, Director, The Tiny Spark, said: “Much has been discussed, written or documented about the 1985 Handsworth Riots, an uprising that occurred on the streets of Britain’s second city.

“Ask any number of people why the riots happened and you’ll be given a variety of reasons, but between 9-11 September 1985, I found myself in the midst of the ensuing chaos photographing the unfolding and devastating events. The camera didn’t lie or have an opinion as its lens recorded a particular moment in British history.

“For decades those 35mm negatives lay dormant. In 2022 I was awarded the opportunity to reclaim elements of that history and The Tiny Spark was born; a filmic interpretation of the events, utilising new and archive film footage and three local spoken word artists who would deliver the politically potent words of Benjamin Zephaniah.

“My aim is a simple one, for The Tiny Spark to unearth hidden histories, inspire discussion and provide cultural stimulation for those seeking an understanding of what really happened. This film does not in any way provide definitive answers, only questions!”

Sara Wajid, co-CEO, Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “The phrase ‘The Tiny Spark’ refers to the sparking of the Handsworth Riots following the arrest of a Black man for a traffic offence by police in Birmingham on 9 September, 1985.

“It could also be a description of powerful artworks that can be tiny potent sparks for public debate and for our collective imagination and help us make sense of the times we are living in.

“We’re very proud to host the premiere of this new film by Pogus Caesar who is both a Birmingham legend and internationally renowned artist and filmmaker.”

The Tiny Spark is produced and directed by Pogus Caesar and supported by Birmingham Museums Trust, Windrush Productions and OOM Gallery Archive.