I AM GANGSTER
English/Spanish with Subtitles
TRT: 104 min
Digital 5k, RED Epic Camera
Official Website: www.iamgangsterfilm.com
Rebellious teenager Rio gets pushed into the seemingly supportive world of the local gang while hardcore gang member Lito follows his dangerous ambitions and young correctional officer David faces adversity at the jail and must adapt to stay afloat.
Moritz Rechenberg first took interest in street gang kids in late 2007 when he was searching for a subject matter for his next short film, Ticked. While skimming the Los Angeles Times an article about racially motivated gang killings grabbed his attention. In his own life, he says, he couldn't be more removed from the realities of life in the barrio. However, driven by a desire to tell the story of kids who are left to themselves, turn to the street and eventually take up arms to shoot at their perceived enemy he needed to thoroughly educate himself and dedicate his time and resources to making a film against forgetting. He first wrote an outline of a screenplay, which was then developed in collaboration with kids from the Teen Club at Hazard Park in East Los Angeles. Ticked was shot over the course of six weeks in the summer of 2008.
Making Ticked was a revelatory, community-based experience for Rechenberg, only bringing him closer to the struggle of the Homies. He wanted to expand on and dig deeper into the issue of gang-related youth violence prompting research and development of the feature film that would become I Am Gangster. For this project he also wanted to closely collaborate with people and communities who are suffering from violence. "What I learned during the making of Ticked, the experiences I had volunteering at a juvenile detention center and the relationships I built over the years with organizations like Homeboy Industries and Operation Street Kidz were invaluable in making that possible", he says.
The participation of community members as well as former and occasionally active gang members was essential on many levels from story development, location scouting and on-screen talent. Besides lending an inimitable character and level of authenticity to the film these positions offered employment, a positive work experience to former gang-members seeking work and Rechenberg hopes it created an opportunity for healing through active reflection.
The project was born out of a desire to tell an authentic and genuine story from the perspective of the majority of youth street gang members, says Rechenberg, a perspective with a different take on the "pull factors" for youth such as money, cars and women. By creating a non-judgmental portrait of life on the street in contemporary Los Angeles, Rechenberg says he wants to provoke and instigate discussions about the characters, their choices and what they represent. The unobstrusive, verité-style execution offers a spectrum of possibilities for interpretation, which he believes will not only bring the film to life in the mind of the audience but more than anything will reveal the viewer's own attitude and opinion on the subject matter.
The film's Director of Photography Lyn Moncrief and Rechenberg worked without a storyboard to approach each scene as open-minded as possible. Leaving enough room to let the beauty of the mundane show they wanted to cover each scene with a certain efficiency; not to create long shots for the sake of spectacle but to give Moncrief and Rechenberg the freedom to organically block a scene and to give the actors the opportunity to thrive and improvise.
While several months were spent rehearsing with first-time actors to give them the comfort needed to perform under pressure and in front of a camera, most dialogue was written, rewritten and improvised on set as they went along. Rechenberg says: "It's a risky technique but the level of artistic spontaneity, this instinctual kind of process, was not just thrilling and artistically fulfilling but necessary to achieve the naturalistic feel of the mise en scéne."