‘Souljah’ dir. Rikki Beadle-Blair (2008)

On a South London estate the local youths see themselves as being in a war – against the police, gangs, the world. They think nothing of bullying an effeminate young African asylum-seeker and his mother. But the young African has a secret: he knows more about war than they ever will.

Year: 2008
Country: UK
Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair
Writer: John R Gordon
Producers: Marc Boothe & Erinma Ochu
Key Cast: Ludvig Bonin, Jason Maza, Jai Rajani, Joel Dommett

Winner, Best Short Film, 2008

Presented in association with Rushes Soho Shorts Film Festival 2012

5 Questions for Rikki Beadle-Blair

C8: Souljah packs in a lot of conflict in a very short space of time; sexual, racial, territorial – was it important for you to offer an alternative to the standard gangland dramas we see so often in short film?

RBB: The most important thing was to tell the truth – I grew up on the estates of South London where we shot the film and I wanted to capture the complexity of that experience and what growing up as a feminine boy was like in that environment, how soft and strong you you need to be.

C8: Souljah is based on a script written by your long term creative collaborator John R Gordon – can you tell us a little bit about how you developed this project together, and how B3 Media were involved?

RBB: John is fascinated by African child soldiers and their contradictory nature – the innocence, the callousness of youth, their blurring of gender representations – there’s a lot of carnivalesque dressing up and ‘Lord of the Flies’ style improvised tribalism.  Then we were talking about Damilola Taylor, the young black boy who was killed by other youths while skipping to study at Peckham Library – regardless of Damilola’s sexuality, it seems highly probable that part of the attack on him had homophobic aspects – and John wondered aloud what would have happened if, unbeknownst to his attackers, Damilola had been a refugee former child-soldier.  I had a one-word response. ‘Wow.’  John pitched it B3 Media. They were wowed too. They gave us 8k to make the film.

C8: What were the biggest challenges during production?

RBB: Without a doubt it was making Africa on an overcast day in the Old Kent Rd. I decided to use the mural around the back of Costcutters and that worked a treat (with tight editing round the delivery vans) but how to do the Child soldier stuff?  I stood in the council flat that we were going to transform in to an African home, remembering my golden rule – when looking for an solution, start where you are – and then I looked out of the window and there it was – across the road on a tiny patch of scrubland – a full-size brightly-graffittied tank! More tight shooting and tight editing along with a bunch of banana plants John brought at Homebase hiding the council estates.  I love challenges.

C8: Where does Souljah sit in your career and what had you done before it?

RBB: It was my first proper 11minute short film, though I had already written a feature film ‘Stonewall’ and written and directed a Channel 4 TV series, ‘Metrosexuality.’

C8: What’s next on the horizon for you as a filmmaker?

RBB: Since Souljah I have made three feature films back to back ‘KickOff’, ‘FIT’ and ‘Bashment’ and six more short films and this autumn I’m hopefully shooting my fourth, ‘Taken In’. I also work a lot in theatre. Bakers bake bread every day,  I feel it’s my job to direct everyday.