Jemma Desai

writer, researcher, film programmer

Voted for

Vagabond1985Agnès Varda
Girl Friends1978Claudia Weill
Mississippi Masala1991Mira Nair
Tongues Untied1989Marlon Riggs
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
Babylon1980Franco Rosso
Burning an Illusion1981Menelik Shabazz
Suzanne, Suzanne1982James V. Hatch, Camille Billops
AMMA ARIYAN1987John Abraham
The Stuart Hall Project2013John Akomfrah


There is nothing more embarrassing to me than hearing someone emphasise the 'Great' in Great Britain. Aspiring to greatness feels to me like a capitulation to colonial amnesia, a selective remembering of what Britain bountifully offered to the world and a complete disregard of what it has and continues to plunder in the process. These are 10 films that are about people who Britain (and the British film industry) would never give the designation of great if they were real people and not actors dirtied up and put onto big screens at red carpet festivals. On this list are films that have been overlooked and uncared for during their time, have been limited in their circulation and passed around through word of mouth, VHS cassettes or exclusive screenings, only to be 'rediscovered' and ascribed as 'great' when their insights and critiques could be viewed from a safe distance. Perhaps this list does not include the 'greatest' films of all time but I am grate-ful for all of them. Perhaps this list is not great as in good but great as in expansive, mind-opening and confronting. I am thankful for all of these works and how they have helped me and my politics grow, that I have had the privilege to learn from them and contributed in a small way to passing them on to others.