David Knight - 18th June 2012

At long last on Promo News - Astrid Edwards video for Cornershop's Milkin' It, which is also just a short part of a documentary she's made in Oakland, the fourth most dangerous city in America.

"I shot it on a wing, a prayer and some airmiles in East Oakland, Ca.," says Astrid. "The song is a lament to old school hip hop - so I went to USA's 4th most dangerous city and shot a film featuring turf dancers, grafitti artists and various other sorts along the way."

Astrid is a producer, of course, of a many music videos, plus a great deal besides, and has been directing documentaries too for a while. And she was spurred to make this by Nile Rodgers, another subject of a recent Astrid-directed doc. It was shown at the London Short Film Festival a few months ago, and a one hour doc is in the works.

An exhibition about the project has recently taken place at the Filmbase in Dublin, and below is Astrid's interview for the exhibition about her time in Oakland making the Cornershop video.

http://www.youtube.com/watchv=EBti3lGmWqU

Astrid Edwards on making the video for Cornershop ft In Light Of Aquarius's Milkin' It

Your film features turf dancers. What is turf dancing, and why did you feature it in Cornershop?s music video Hearing Cornershop?s ?Milkin? It? reminded me of the early days of hip-hop. As a 12-14 year old I tripped effortlessly from disco to punk and reggae, that segued nicely into funk, hip-hop and new wave. All of these genres had one thing in common: real communities doing it for themselves. Around the same time, Nile Rodgers [creator of one of the most sampled hip-hop breaks of all time - Chic?s ?Good Times?] sent me a link to ?RIP June? - a viral turf dance film. The whole thing blew me away. The dance was a language in itself: a mishmash of breakdancing, ballet, and tutting, usually done in response to a young friend dying - an RIP dance.
I started researching the background to turf dancing and discovered that it?s unique to Oakland, California. And then I decided: if Oakland was the catalyst then that?s where the video should be shot. It wasn?t easy on a shoestring budget, but with a lot of focus, some rediscovered airmiles, and not taking no for an answer I made it happen. Who are the dancers that feature in the film You see two dancers in the film - Eninja and Chonkie - the two dancers I saw originally in ?RIP June?. They were the best I?d seen, so I decided to track them down. It took me two months and it wasn?t easy. The most important thing for me was that they trusted me - this is what took the time. They have their own dance group Turf Feinz. Many of them say that if they weren?t doing turf dancing they?d be dead or at best ?a gangster?. Turf dancing isn?t a fad or a hobby, it?s a way of life - and it?s literally saving lives on the streets of East Oakland.

The video features much more than dancing, though. Was that pre-meditated I?d always intended the film to have an observational, documentary style. Turf dancing is about so much more than just dancing. The film is essentially about hope in a community and draws reference from the early 80?s hip-hop vibe - that lo-fi, DIY style that subsumed popular culture at the time. In saying that, I could never have quite predicted what we ended up with. I shot it very fast over two days on a combination of a digital SLR and a smaller HD flip camera.
]I met some serious characters along the way. Ex-Black Panther ?Ray P-Funk? was convinced I was a cop and frisked me a little too vigorously several times over. He was worried I had a gun. To be truthful, I was more worried he had a gun - he was very volatile at first and pretty high. Ray opens the film.
We stopped by an impromptu eviction protest, and I agreed to film the residents? story. It all unfolded before my eyes. The police had gained illegal entry the night before, smashed up the property and intimidated residents. As I was filming a cop showed up - and, amazingly, admitted his force were in the wrong.
My enduring memory, though, is of 7 year-old Kevere, bright as a shiny, new button presenting me with his dinosaur pictures, while I talked to Gordon. Gordon had recently become homeless: he had pneumonia, diabetes, and was living from his wheelchair in a bus shelter. He came out to support the residents on his way to hospital. He was hoping that they wouldn?t amputate his foot as he was struggling after having the first one amputated a few months previously. This harsh contrast of the beginning of life and the probable end of life brought together in one shot was overwhelmingly galling. I gave Gordon a hug as I left. I knew I?d never see him again. "Oh, I?ll be around somewhere" he said, looking up at the sky. I knew exactly what he meant. I often think of him. You?ll see Gordon in the film. Did East Oakland feel as dangerous as its reputation of America?s 4th most dangerous city The streets are eerily quiet - no one?s around, no one goes out - and by the second day I was beginning to understand why. The walls are covered in RIP murals to dead children and young people who?ve been gunned down either deliberately or via crossfire. Most people I spoke to said: ?Don?t go, you?ll get shot!?. Ironically, there was a double shooting by my hotel the night I arrived - and I actually felt safest on the ?roughest blocks?. I was considered ?a neutral? i.e. I wasn?t a cop or someone who was selling drugs on someone else?s patch. I had to talk to people pretty fast and tell them what I was doing as many were rightly thinking ?what the hell is that woman doing here? Most were receptive, others weren?t and I respectfully left them alone. I know people looked out for me.
I was very much an outsider looking in, and I wanted to show the vibrancy and hope of a community that?s so slammed with the label ?broken?. Creative expression by any means necessary - that?s the true essence of hip-hop, and I hope very much that is what comes across in the film.

Credits

DirectorAstrid Edwards
ProducerAstrid Edwards
Director of PhotographyAstrid Edwards
OfflinePhil Currie

David Knight - 18th June 2012

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