It was the 9th edition of the DOC NYC Festival this week in New York City. Brett Fallentine, the director of the award winning documentary “Fire On The Hill” and Ghuan Featherstone (one of the film’s subjects), stopped in to Sohung Designs, located in The Meatpacking District of Manhattan to meet up with us here at CineVino and to talk about the documentary film currently being screened as part of the festival. “Fire On The Hill” is a documentary about the Black Cowboys of Compton and their fight to preserve their culture after a fire destroys The Hill Stable in South Central L.A.
Brett Fallentine: My name is Brett Fallentine, I am the director of Fire On The Hill
Ghuan Featherstone: And my name is Ghuan Featherstone, I am one of the subjects of the film.
Brett Fallentine: And we are going to be drinking a Cab Sauvignon from Argentina called La Finka.
Ghuan Featherstone: Alright.
Brett Fallentine: So, let’s just do that. Maybe lets talk about how we met and how I found The Hill, or I guess not found The Hill, but stumbled upon it one day.
Ghuan Featherstone: There you go.
Brett Fallentine: So, I had heard, I had a friend who was doing some social work down in South L.A. and she told me at a party, that there were these guys riding around. And as soon as I heard about this, I was like, I have got to see this, where are they?” I don’t know, she was at this crossstreet, it was right by that overpass, it was down there by the number streets.
Ghuan Featherstone: Like 117th or something like that.
Brett Fallentine: Yeah, yeah. so I went down there, on a Saturday in the morning and I waited in my car and it was where they ride and so I saw this trail of horse manure and so I kept following this trail and then it just stops, and I didn’t know where to go, so I left. But over the next week or two I’d come back and I’d pickup this trail and literally the trail of horse shit led to the stable and when I got there, I had my cameras on me and I met Ray who’s one of the elders and I started interviewing him and then he was like “You have got to meet this guy Ghuan” and then I met Ghuan and Ghuan was like, “Hey we are going to go out riding next week and why don’t you come out for a ride, this guy Calvin is going to be there and this guy Fat Pack.
“You get around these animals and it’s like, oh yeah, we are all cowboys, we are all together.”
Ghuan Featherstone: Yeah, there was a few of us on that first ride. That is when you got that great footage of us going back.
Brett Fallentine: And we got to the end and I didn’t know where we you were going the whole time, I was just following you guys and following you guys and you guys were just riding in the medium, running them, reeling them, all this stuff and it was such great footage and then you guys veered off sometime, I was like where are we going? And everybody locked up and went to the liquor store and then I was like “what are we doing now guys” and I think it was you, you were like, “now you are going to buy us some Hennessy”
Ghuan Featherstone: Ya, you were the Hennessy Boy!
Brett Fallentine: And so we bought a bottle and we brought it back to The Hill, we had some drinks and Ghuan showed off his singing talents, to the camera.
Ghuan Featherstone: Oh Yeah, I did sing that day. Because Calvin was doing his thing and being like, “Sing a song! Sing a song!” and he had me sing that Sleepless in L.A. song.
Yeah, would you sing a bit of it. Just a little bit of it.
Ghuan Featherstone: Oh okay, it goes like …
In the city of fallen angels, where the wild and crazy hang
Full of hustlers and dope pushers, oh we’re sleepless in L.A.
See all my life I’ve seen that struggle,
Homies die for financial gain
I’m a witness to the madness, mothers children go astray.
If I can live my life for just a day, I wonder how I’d hang,
Will I stay focused on tomorrow or survive for the today,
See I am tired of the suffering, dropping tears at another grave.
In a minute it’s all over but now I am sleepless in L.A.
I am sleepless all the time..
The Music of Fire On The Hill
Brett Fallentine: Yeah, yeah, yeah! And then I saw this and I was like oh my g*d, and so the music we have for the film, so, you know this is something we actually don’t get to talk about a lot in the interviews we do and after we screen the movie at these festivals, but one of the major things that happened through the course of making this movie is, it was a big collaborative effort and Ghuan actually did, I think, four or five songs that are in the film, He did the first song that is opening the movie and he closes the movie. He is one of the two songs that close the movie. And the whole time, you know, you heard his voice and Ghuan was sending songs, tracks the whole time.
Ghuan Featherstone: “Listen to this, listen to this.” Every time I did a new song, “listen to this listen to this” and you were like “I’ll listen to them”.
Brett Fallentine: Yeah. And we started placing them all throughout the film and that is how it started, you know, when Chris is riding in the car, and at the rodeos, that is how it was, like that BBQ you would play your songs, you know. So it was a great kind of, you know, I’ve never heard of a relationship where the subject is also the composer unless the subject is a composer and that is what it’s all about. So we brought on too, we brought on DJ Swish, and he does a lot of beats for L.A. rappers, he is a very talented, young kid. He’s from Long Beach. And so one day we wanted to this opening song, we wanted to do this collaboration with all these guys and No Good. And so, we all went to Universal Music in Santa Monica and we got a room and these guys just started writing. Swish laid down a beat and these guys started writing, I had never scene that before.
Ghuan Featherstone: Ya, that was good, that was great experience too. We just vibed on the spot. We didn’t have any idea what we were do and we were thinking of something else at first and Swish was like, “Ooh I like that!” and No Good said “Palm Trees and Bullet Holes” and then he was like “Oh, that’s a cool line” and so we started writing of that line, right there.
Brett Fallentine: And then Ghuan took it home, and then two days later Ghuan was like here’s the track. No changes, we didn’t change anything. It was awesome.
Brett Fallentine: I’d say, maybe, talk about too, one of the things that was so interesting to me, doing the film and learning about this as as I got to know you, and Calvin and Chris, which was The Hill, which is just a horse stable in the middle of South L.A. what it was actually doing to the community around. What was it’s importance to the community and especially the youth and the gang community that was around, and now with that energy, what are you trying to do with that energy now?
Ghuan Featherstone: Okay, well what it use to do, is, I can’t say it was a written rule, but it was like an unwritten rule that that place was a neutral zone. So, imagine this being The Hill, and all around The Hill you have all these different gangs around The Hill, but when they all came to this central location, there was no problems. And that was crazy to see that happen. When you are over here, you are mad at each other, but you get around these animals and it’s like “oh yeah, we are all cowboys, we are all together.” So, that right there, is really what we are basing our new idea of how we are going to bring The Hill back. So we are trying to start a foundation, called The Hill Foundation and what it’s going to do is provide that environment again, mainly for the youth, that that they’ve got a place, they know its a neutral zone, because all the gangs already know, they still, even right now, it’s nonexistent but the gangs still come together are how we are going to bring The Hill back mainly for the youth because all the gangs all know but they get together, and you know, I don’t know what they do when they leave but when they are up there, there is no problems. So, okay, let focus on building this back up, but it would be mainly dedicated to that purpose. Of getting people together and and having the community grow on that basis and we will utilize the horses to draw them, because horses, like here in New York, I didn’t see anybody with a cowboy hat on or riding a horse down the street and I am sure they didn’t see me either. He’s different, why does he have his hat on. And it happens in L.A. too. So we are going to use the horses to get their attention, get them there, get them active with the horses, get them riding the horses, but you are riding this horse next to this Crip but now you are like, ya, “you are cool” Brett, riding down the street with me and maybe he didn’t have any black friends or I didn’t have any white friends. but in this place everybody’s together. It is a really big problem with the black community and the hispanic community. They are like taking off on site, shooting each other on site, but this area right now, it’s a whole different vibe. And then it transcends beyond that, because they go tell their friends “Wait a minute, hold on, you can’t do that to him, he’s my buddy, you have to leave him alone.” And it just trickles down, next thing you know, it’s a brush fire.
Brett Fallentine: Ya, really, seriously and that is kind of what we are building on and we are organizing it and I’d say, would you say, that The Hill was passively working as a gang prevention, preventative device, we are trying to make it an active participant, we are trying to use it as a base, it is something f the community it has been in the heritage of South L.A. and Compton since the beginning and so we thought why not base it on that. Why not have it on that because if it is so ingrained in the local community, that is a way to help.
Special thank you to SoHung Designs in New York City for the beautiful space. SoHung Designs is located at 325 W 16th St, New York, NY 10011.
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