Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Four Corners" - Featured @ The Pan African Film Festival LA - It's a Wrap! 2015

Shot on location in South Africa in the Cape Flats, Four Corners is a film based on actual experiences of the residents. The film is fast paced depiction of young people fighting a war that is over 100 years old.
"Cape Flats is the most violent neighborhood in South Africa and one of the most violent neighborhoods in the world," says the film's director, Ian Gabriel.
"Four Corners", Directed by Ian Gabriel. A South African Film that mirrors the
lives of many of our youths in America
Farrakhan (Brendon Daniels), a general in the 28 gang in Four Corners prison has just been released from prison after 13 years. He wants out of the gang life and his only goals besides wanting to live as a law abiding citizen are to avenge his father's murder by a leading member of the rival 26 gang and to find his son, who was born 13 years ago while he was in prison. In the beginning of the film, we meet Ricardo(Jezzriel Skei), Farrakhan's 13-year-old-son, who is being interrogated by the police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is something different about Ricardo and the detective knows this and sets him free. Ricardo is a chess prodigy and wants to leave the juvenile section of the prison in time to make it to chess practice after school.  The game of Chess is Ricardo's only oxygen and he plays like his life depends on it. Though Farrakhan and Ricardo's paths won't actually cross until later on in the film, the audience gets enough clues throughout the film to figure out that Ricardo is the son that Farrakhan is looking for.
Ricardo's life spirals out of control as he is pulled into the 26 gang in
ape Flats and is forced into robberies, gambling and a gut wrenching shootout. It's hard to imagine that Ricardo had many other choices  in this community. Poverty and destitution are continuous and ubiquitous in this dismally violent community. Like Ricardo, the vast majority of the youth live in fatherless homes. The fathers are not in the homes because they are in the prisons; a depressing mirror image of the reality for many black and brown children in the United States. 
Farrakhan is passionate about living on the right side of the law, but he is in the wrong side of town. He is a former member of the 28 gang living in 26  gang's territory.  These 2 gangs have been at war for the past 100 years in Cape Town. There is no welcome wagon when he arrives  in Cape Flats and no promise of peace from the members of the 26 gang. Farrakhan makes a promise to himself and his new love interest that the path to his future will be guided by peace. However, the sadism that he attracts prohibits him from excluding bloody options.   
These stories are centered around the mixed race people of the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa. Even though South Africa saw the end of apartheid over 2 decades ago, the Cape Flats remains segregated and comprised of mixed race residents. These are the people that played the extras and even some of the main characters in Four Corners. Shooting on location gave Gabriel the opportunity to provide desperately needed jobs and revenue to the Cape Flats. The residents provided the vast array of services necessary for film production from craft and catering to security (courtesy of the Cape Flat gang members).

The Cape Flat residents welcomed the idea of shooting the film,
Four Corners in their community. They were enthusiastic to have their stories told. They are the forgotten people of South Africa. They were not white enough to benefit from apartheid and they are not black enough to benefit from the notoriety and gains made by some South Africa's black people after apartheid. The mixed race people of the Cape Flats wanted to be seen and heard. Their stories resonate with Ian Gabriel, who is also a mixed race South African.

Gabriel said that he got the idea for the film on a trip to the United States. He had a conversation with a Baltimore social worker who told him about the legacy of families that had generations of sons and fathers going to prison. This revolving door is detrimental on the entire family and the community. This resonated with Gabriel and he wanted to do a film which spoke the harsh truths of the people of South Africa's Cape Flats. In the film, "Four Corners", a senior prison general tells Farrakhan that there is no need to go out into the world to look for his son because just as he (Farrakhan) had to end up in prison to find his father, Farrakhan's son will surely end up in prison and find him; A generational curse.
As for the prison scenes, Gabriel says that this was the easiest shooting day he's ever had. The prisoners in the film were all ex-convicts. There is a prison riot that takes place immediately after the brutal shanking of a prison general in the beginning of the film. Gabriel says that the only direction he gave the main actors and the extras was to conduct a prison riot and everyone knew just what to do. Prison riots were nothing new to this bunch so they needed very little direction to pull off this brilliant scene! Gabriel used actual prison generals to play the parts of the prison generals in the film. The history of prison generals in Cape Town's prisons is long and prevailing. Gabriel says that the prison officials run the prison for 8 hours a day while the prison generals of the 26 and 28 numbers gangs runs the prison for 16 hours a day. They were able to acquire gains for the prisoners in civil rights, better lockdown times, increased hours for exercising and better working conditions. The prison generals in the Four Corners prison are highly respected and regarded. There are definitely some obvious pros to having the prison generals wield so much power. However, Gabriel gives us a front row seat to some of the deadly outcomes of the prison generals' reign.
Chess is a constant thread in Four Corners. Ricardo, the 13 year old character, makes moves in his life according to the rules of Chess. He compares each person in his life to pieces on the chess board and deals with them accordingly. There is a striking difference to Ricardo's life when he is in his realm as a Chess champion and when he is out in the streets,
making every move possible to avoid becoming a mere pawn in this game of life and death. Gabriel explains that he uses Chess to such a large extent in the film because Chess has becoming a prevalent element of reform in The Cape Flats. Along with competitive Pantsulu youth dance groups, Youth Chess Teams are now formed in The Cape Flats to give the youth an alternative to gang affiliations.

Director of "Four Corners",
Ian Gabriel
Four Corners is a brilliant film about a forgotten people. In  the film, "Four Corners", the mixed race people of the Cape Flats live loud and in bodacious color! Gabriel's love and knowledge of the film's subject matter is extensive and impressive. He tells a story of a very particular group of people in a very particular place. However, Gabriel is never unaware that this story is universal and as true for the youth in the favelas of Rio to the youth in the South Side of Chicago. In my opinion the only thing that can make this film better is a companion documentary which gives the viewers some background on the Cape Flats, the numbers gangs in the Four Corners prison and the political and historical background of the mixed race people in South Africa.

There is so much more to learn about South Africa and Gabriel's film has rightfully claimed its place on South Africa's timeline by giving us an in-depth look at part of this country that we know far too little about.
Yougnesse Williams
Photography by Yougnesse Williams
#PAFF2015 #FourCornerstheFILM

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