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 didn’t 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. Paul Sng and Celeste directed a documentary about Poly, which is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival 2021. Paul spoke with The Fountain about it in more depth below.
TF: Your film is screening at Glasgow Film Festival this year, you must be stoked?
Yes, we’re chuffed to have our world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival. I moved to Scotland a couple of years ago, so it has an extra resonance for me. Disappointing that we can’t watch the film in person with an audience at GFT, but hopefully we can arrange a Q&A screening once cinemas reopen.
TF: How would you sum up the film in one sentence?
The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship.
TF: How are you feeling about presenting it in this digital format and has there had to be much change to the format to do it this way?
Film festivals and independent cinemas have done a magnificent job in adapting to the restrictions placed on their activities due to Covid19. One of the advantages of a digital screening it that you can reach a bigger audience, though nothing beats sitting in a dark room in front of a big screen with an audience and discussing the film afterwards.
TF: What else are you working on, I note your involvement in Short Circuit’s Convergence programme?
At the moment I’m in the edit on a film about the homeless dog owning community, Dogs on the Streets, which we’re aiming to finish in May. I’m also directing my first drama short, Folding, which was funded by Short Circuit and is scheduled to shoot in March. I have a couple of docs in development and am also working on a couple of scripted projects. I’m editing my second narrative photography book, This Separated Isle, which will be published in September.
Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche is screening at Glasgow Film Festival 2021 between 27th Feb and 2nd March 2021. For more info click here