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

Friday, February 13, 2015

PAFF.ORG - Triangle: Going to America

Director and Producer, Theodros Teshome Kedebe,
Ja'net DuBoisCo-Founder, Pan African Film Festival,
and the cast of the Centerpiece film, Triangle: Going to America
The Honorable Consul General, Ambassador Zerihun Reta,
Director & Producer of the film, Triangle: Going to America -
Theodros Teshome Kedebe
Triangle: Going to America, made its world premier last night as the Centerpiece film at the 23rd annual Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles

The film was written
and directed by Ethiopian filmmaker, Theodros Teshome Kedebe 

The beautiful cast donned the red carpet in their finest Ethiopian garments and grace.

This feature film takes us on a journey wrought with grief and peril through the deserts of Ethiopia

East and North Africa, Italy, Mexico and the United States.

Cast members of the fim,Triangle: Coming to Americagathered in a circle celebrating the world premiere  of their fabulous film. They're doing a traditional Ethiopian dance at the after party.
This thought provoking film addresses several controversial issues.

On this journey women do not play the traditional gender roles of Ethiopian and Eritrean women. 
One female character tells her fiancĂ©, "The only difference between men and women these days are the signs on the restroom doors." The film also deals with the sexual victimization that travelers frequently endure when trying to cross borders at the hands of the smugglers; the ones who have been paid handsomely to guide and protect them.  Financial exploitation is another common thread in the film. Even after the travelers are forced to spend money after paying multiple times to multiple people, they are threatened at gun point even when they have absolutely nothing left to give or refuse to pay again.

This is an important film as it broadens the discussion of illegal immigration beyond the assumption that all people who cross the U.S./Mexico border illegally are Hispanic.

This film exhibits not only the route that many Africans take to enter the United States without documentation, but also the range of reasons why people would leave Africa and risk a precarious trek through more than 10,000 miles of life and death situations and countless treacherous handlers to get to the United States.

What I loved most was that this was a very intelligent film. The comedy was edgy and witty, the dialogue was sharp and each outcome was unpredictable. The characters had an undeniable chemistry which produced scenes that made you laugh along with them, cry along with them,  fear and cheer along with them. There was a gut wrenching scene of grief that made the audience grown and forced me reach for my Kleenex. The actors were brilliant in making us care deeply about each and every traveler. The main characters were warm, lovable, resilient and strong and the excellent performances by the actors made the emotion in the scenes tangible.
Though the 2 scenes where nature pounded the travelers had CG that was so bad that it was distracting at best; I could not be mad at the filmmaker. 

Kedebe did a heck of a lot more with the incredibly low budget of $350,000 than anyone can possibly imagine. Kedebe got the idea for this film after a chance encounter with an old friend from Ethiopia for the first time in the United States. After this friend told him a ten minute version of this nightmare of a journey, Kedebe knew that this had to be a manifested into a feature film. Three years later,  Triangle: Going to America had its world premiere. Kedebe got the title for this film when thinking about the triangular layout of the transatlantic slave trade established 500 years ago. Kedebe made this film as an admonition to his countrymen to not risk their lives journeying through hell to get to a place where they will discover that they have only sold themselves into a new kind of slavery when they encounter the degradation and exploitation that stems from braving the Triangle to get to the United States.

Yougnesse Williams
Photography by Yougnesse Williams

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Vigilante... The Crossing - PAFF.ORG 2015

The Cast of  the film, Vigilante...The Crossing..Step By Step Productions, Producer, Dave Weekes,
 Marcia Weekes, Director
(Photography by Yougnesse Williams)
Writer, Producer Dave Weekes, Director, Marcia Weekes
Vigilante...The Crossing
Barbados has arrived! Writer and Producer, Dave Weekes, director Marcia Weekes has propelled Bajan film-making in a tremendous way. Her fifth film Vigilante... The Crossing is a modern day tale of Robin Hood meets City of God!

The film chronicles the struggles of ex-con Dexter Gooding who makes a radical change from egocentric violent criminal to an island version of Shaft in order to help his community which is now plagued with nightly shootings, robbery, sexual assault, police brutality and political corruption. Yes... we have seen all of these things before in Caribbean films. However, the exhibition of racism and prejudice by a wealthy Caucasian family towards members of Dexter's community is something brand new for the audience to ponder. The film also does not shy away from taboo... rich white privileged girl meets handsome, big, black, gun-toting gangster and causes rich white family sleepless nights.

In addition to the wonderful acting from a very talented cast, I found it delightful to see Caucasian actors speaking with authentic Bajan accents. These accents were not acquired with the assistance of a dialect coach; the actors are official Bajans. Weekes delves into a topic that is not discussed or acknowledged in the Caribbean to the extent that it is in the United States. Weekes manifests room for much needed dialogue about race and class issues in the Caribbean, which ultimately are as destructive there as it is in the United States.

What I enjoyed most about the film was watching Dexter, a young man who enjoyed reigning terror in his community in the past  redeem himself by now picking up arms and putting his life on the line to defend this same community against the new ruthless crime boss and his henchmen. And though I would have loved to see some scenes in the film where the white sand beaches and pristine turquoise waters were featured, I respect Weekes' decision to have the audience view Barbados and the Caribbean in general as more than just a great spot to vacation, work on a fabulous tan and limbo on the dance floor of a swanky Americanized resort.

 In Vigilante...The Crossing, the people of the Caribbean were real characters with complex personalities, complicated relationships and souls. Weekes' film fills a void in an industry where many mainstream films shot in the Caribbean tend to feature Caucasian characters only and the people of the islands are just waiters, maids, valets, pretty ornaments wearing bikinis on the beach or simply invisible. Vigilante...The Crossing is adamant in giving the people of the island strength and a prominent voice!

The film was shot on location in Barbados in 26 days. The Bajan Board of Tourism was a strong supporter of the production. 13 members of the cast flew all the way from Barbados to Los Angeles for the world premiere of the film Vigilante and adorned the red carpet with Bajan style and wonderful accents. As a fellow Caribbean myself, I am proud to say, "Allyuh, Vigilante is de rell ting, man. Gwon see de movie at de Pan African Film Festival before it dun. If yuh doh see it, yuh go be rell sorry!"

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pan African Film Festival 2015: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

The Stars Show Up to Support Praiseworthy Documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Loretta Divine 
Richard Gant  
The red carpet was on fire at the opening night screening and VIP reception for the 2015 
Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles California. 
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution made it's Los Angeles debut one week after making its mark at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Written and directed by accomplished filmmaker Stanley Nelson, the Black Panther documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party from 1967 to 1973. The film dedicates the entire 116 minutes to exploring the motivations that triggered the rise of this urban based revolutionary youth movement and also exhibits FBI files which documents J. Edgar Hoover's tactics in using Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Program) to decimate the Black Panther Party and its accomplishments. The film features well known Black Panthers such as Huey Newton, Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver, Michael McCarty and Bobby Seale. 
Serayah McNeil (Empire)
Actors Isaiah WashingtonJimmy Jean-Louis,
Richard Gant,
 actresses Loretta Divine and
Jimmy Jean-Louis  

Serayah McNeil
(Empire) Councilmember Curren Price were just of a few well known faces to flatter the runway of the very well attended opening night events and film screening for the 2015 Pan African Film Festival.

Isaiah Washington 
After the first theater was filled to capacity, another theater was utilized to handle the overflow. The overflow theater quickly filled up as well with an audience eager to absorb information about this riveting documentary and its game-changing subjects.
Serayah McNeil (Empire) 
The Pan African Film Festival which is now celebrating its 23rd anniversary will run from February 5th thru the 8th at the CineMark's Rave Cinema at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, California. 
Yougnesse Williams
(Photography - Richard Gant, Loretta Divine, Serayah McNeil, Isaiah Washington on the
Red Carpet, by Yougnesse Williams -  JimmyJean Louis' photo is from his official website

Dick Gregory - A Man of All Seasons, Receives a Star on #HollywoodWalkofFame

Dick Gregory received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Feb 2, 2015! It was so exciting! 
I got a message from my girl, Caroline Hodges (She looks just like Oprah!) "Carla, are you going to attend the #HollywoodWalkofFame tomorrow?
They are honoring #DickGregory! and I can't be there - can you go?!" I said,
" I wish I could! I'm in San Francisco, working on a project - awww, snap!
Dick Gregory receives a STAR on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 

Dick Gregory? Our Sage? - How awesome!
He has kept so many people grounded over the years.
At the same time, he taught people how to treat us. All with humor."

Happy 56th Anniversary, Mr. & Mrs. Dick Gregory! That's the kind of commitment I'm talking about! It reminds me of a definition of LOVE
 "Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
 bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
(1 Cornth 13:7)

Mr. & Mrs. Dick Gregory celebrate 56 years of marriage. 
Michael Colyar, Honoree, Dick Gregory and
Dr. Michael B. Beckwith 
Let's celebrate! The  Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and
#TheHolywoodWalkofFame honored Dick Gregory - a man that truly is 100%  for real.
Civil Rights Legends - Celebrated by Oprah.

Thank you, Greg Johnson, Dominique DiPrima, and the staff at KJLH Radio, for all that you do in the community!
  @looklikeoprah2 @MichaelColyar  @drmichaelbb @Oprah 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Love Supreme - America's Legends Who Paved the Way

I was listening to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme,
and looking at
Oprah honor 14 (living) Civil Rights Legends
at Bacara Resort and Spa, in Santa Barbara, CA.
It was a lovely two day celebration which culminated in

Ambassador Andrew Young, Berry Gordy, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, Dick Gregory, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Juanita Jones Abernathy, Julian Bond, Marian Wright Edelman, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier and
Harry Belafonte (not able to attend).
Photo= Harpo Studios, INC.

(Click on to to watch the video)

The history of America is multi-faceted. Sweet precious jewels that shine, ever so brightly for one and all of us to see, emulate, learn and grow, using that energy to move forward.
Thank you, each and every last one of you, who paved the way for us to live in our land, as human beings. Thank you, Oprah, for caring so much about humanity at large and loving WE.

With love & light,
#Oprah #Selma50 #TeamBH