The Four Corners – ‘Die Vier Hoeke’ – is South African prison slang for the four corners of a prison cell.
Ian Gabriel’s ensemble gang-lands coming of age thriller titled Four Corners, is South Africa’s contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
The film centers on a 13-year-old chess prodigy who’s drawn into Cape Town’s “notorious child-gang culture.” His absent father, recently released from prison, tries to break the pattern of violence and keep his son away from the aforementioned Four Corners.
Fatherless and brought up by his granny, Faita, his gift for playing chess and his involvement with feisty girlfriend, compete with the street gangs in offering him a surrogate home. He is drawn into the world of the gangs by a 22-year-old American gang boss, who first bullies him into gambling for money on a chess match, then pressures him into taking part in a theft to prove his worthiness as gang material. Meanwhile a detective is conducting an ongoing investigation into the disappearance and abduction of young boys connected by family and association to a rival gang. The community lives in fear on the streets as dirty money, weapons and juvenile gangs overwhelm the area, as some find themselves torn between rebuilding the community, relationships and family, and answering the call for revenge.
The screenplay is said to be ambitious and complex, and is based on an original idea by Ian Gabriel and Hofmeyr Scholtz, who both worked on developing it over many years. It has over 60 speaking parts and several intersecting stories, and is further described as an epic ‘low budget’ South African film, cast with a combo of veteran, beginner and non-actors, drawn from schools and communities across the Cape Flats.
Gabriel says that part of his objective in making Four Corners was to create training and opportunities for sustainable filmmaking and film storytelling in the Flats. Not only were many of the actors recruited from the community the film was shot in, but so were crew members who were trained, and will continue to work in film in the future, using what they’ve learned.
Based on the description alone, I’m already envisioning comparisons being made to City Of God, itself with several characters, and an ambitious, low-budget (compared to Hollywood movies anyway) epic-style production.
Ian Gabriel’s last work, Forgiveness, was an African Voices selection for the 10 Best African Films of the past decade, last year.
It’s worth noting that since South Africa first submitted a film for Oscar consideration in 1989, a total of 8 films have been submitted, and of those 9 titles (including this year’s), 2 have made the final short list of films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – the first being a Darrell Roodt film, titled Yesterday (2004), and a year later, Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi, which ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards – the only South African film to do so.
The last day for countries to submit entries for foreign-language Academy Award consideration was October 1. Oscar nominations will be announced on January 10 and the ceremony will be held on February 24.
In the meantime, we’ve received a new full trailer for Four Corners today, which is embedded below.
With the Oscar attention it’s getting, and what seems like a burgeoning Stateside mainstream interest in South African genre films, it may be only a matter of time before it’s picked up by an American distributor.