Insurrection: The “Most Controversial Film Ever Made” by Andrés Serrano

Combining poignant historical footage of the past 150 years; news segments from the past five years; and dozens of first-person recordings posted to online forums like Parler, Insurrection by Andrés Serrano is an unflinchingly graphic narrative film that chronicles the events culminating on January 6, 2021. “I don’t want to brag, but I think this is one of the most violent and controversial movies ever made”, said the artist.

London-based arts organization a/political, in collaboration with DC-based arts nonprofit CulturalDC, is pleased to debut Insurrection, the first-ever film by artist-provocateur Andres Serrano (b. 1950, New York).

An opening sequence set to Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (1971) sets the stage for something highly personal to the artist yet cross-generationally resonant. “I grew up on Dylan,” said Serrano. “For me, he was like the Bible, his songs were proverbs.” With diverse historical footage spanning 150 years, we see a foreshadowing of the January 6 events with riots from the Great Depression, as well as hate crimes juxtaposed with jubilant “support our troops” performances of the same eras.


Score is a key element of the film, and in addition to the narrative framework provided by the instrumental interludes of The Birth of A Nation (1915), songs used were selected for their illustration of the persistent belief – one that was particularly present on January 6 – that “American patriots” will always be victorious because God and Jesus are on their side; the paradox of Americans’ longtime marriage of Christianity and war.

Integrated music includes a Civil War-era children’s rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic (Glory, Glory Hallelujah) as an overlay to the Capitol Rioters preparing to invade the building (“the mob overlay strikes an ominous chord that maybe they were praying to the wrong god,” remarked Serrano); the saccharine “USA Freedom Kids” song made famous in a viral video of young girls singing about “crushing the enemies” at a Donald Trump rally in 2016; and, paired with footage of insurrectionists being arrested toward the end of the film, a 1947 recording of I’m Goin’ Home, from the Alan Lomax Collection of Prison Songs, sung by a prisoner named “Bama” at the maximum- security Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary). Immediately following that, the final piece of film score is a recording of an emotional, scripture-charged speech delivered by a preacher from inside the Capitol rotunda during the insurrection.

“I use the historical recordings [archival video, as well as archival audio paired with contemporary video and vice versa] to viscerally remind the viewer, again and again, that history repeats itself in specific ways. When I photographed the Klan in Georgia in 1990, the Imperial Wizard said to me, ‘any n**** in this country has more rights than a white man.’ Same attitude, different century. If [those leading the Capitol Riots] were Black, they would have been shot down like dogs. Black people have been killed for a lot less than futzing around the Capitol.”

“Serrano’s Insurrection highlights some of the most traumatic and disturbing moments of American history,” said Kristi Maiselman, executive director of CulturalDC. Commented Becky Haghpanah- Shirwan, the director of a/political: “I don’t think the film should be taken as a piece of entertainment – but rather a sincere reflection of that moment in history. The humor of some moments is countered by the overall dryness, a formal quality, and I think this is a really important technique. The tone of ambivalence is perfect – it taken be taken as pro or anti, depending on your political leaning.”

Insurrection is s showing at CulturalDC’s Source Theater (Washington DC) from January 13–15.

Text from the press release by CulturalDC and A/Political