Gangster film blurs genres

This may seem easily comprehensible, but he needed to explain it several times to the people at Encounters, South Africa’s biggest documentary festival, who did not want to screen the film because they had “shown loads of gangster films before” and it did not fit into the box for the traditional documentary.

Thirty-one-year-old Edkins expressed his irritation with this in the trendy Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where he lives. He was born and grew up in Lesotho. His mother is German, his father a South African filmmaker who was in exile.

“The film is about a white boy wanting to make a gangster film with real gangsters in Cape Town,” he said. “It is foremost about the characters in the film, the gangsters and their lives, focused on a claustrophobic house. It is about the process of filmmaking. It is about masculinity and race and how to be honest about the power dynamics of being a white, educated male behind a camera filming a subject living in a ghetto. It is about being a white person in racist Cape Town.”

Gangster Project features both acted and documentary footage, hence some of the confusion over its classification. Edkins spent several months over a period of two years getting to know individual gangsters in Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats. He filmed gangsters going about their everyday activities — mainly sitting around and talking about drugs, guns and gang rivalries, or dealing drugs and visiting fellow gangsters.

Edkins filmed controlled dog fights and a gangster having his wound cleaned by his girlfriend after a fight.

He also enacted scenes with the gangsters, playing himself — a young white filmmaker trying to make a film. The gangsters are sometimes acting and sometimes just being themselves.

The real world
From this, Edkins has sewn together a film that is neither entirely fact nor fiction but is, he said, “all real”.

“In some ways, the fictional scenes are more ‘real’ than the unacted scenes because gangsters live in a world where they are always acting.”

In what is both a “meditation on masculinity” and a coming-of-age story, Edkins’s own character becomes more and more enamoured with gangsterism, seeing himself as part of his very own Mafia film.

“Putting myself in the film was the most honest way to show the process of making a film about gangsters.

“I tried to earn my right to film them by immersing myself in their world and not judging. It was at first difficult to build relationships with the gangsters, but in the end everyone wants to have a film made about them. All of us want to be given a stage  and this applies even more to gangsters, who are so ­marginalised,” Edkins said.

Gangster Project will screen at the Durban International Film Festival on July 21 at noon at Ster Kinekor Musgrave and on July 23 at 5pm at the Blue Waters Hotel

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