Last week, Protein hosted the premiere screening of Chi Raq, a new documentary by British filmmaker, Will Robson-Scott, at the agency’s 18 Hewett Street location. Chi Raq focuses on the violence that has plagued Chicago – particularly the South and West areas of the city – over the last decade and the people that it has affected; both victims and perpetrators. For many in these areas, the violence has simply become a way of life, a notion that Robson-Scott captures with frankness in his film. At this stage, the ongoing feuds between the city’s gangs and other individuals, and the many issues that may contribute to the violence do not seem to show any signs of easing up, and the city’s casualty rate currently rivals that of the war in Iraq. Capturing, above all, the sense of hopelessness that grips many of the young men in South and West Chicago, Chi Raq makes for compelling viewing.
At the conclusion of the film’s screening, audience members were invited to pose any unanswered questions to the filmmaker, while we managed to slide in a few of our own after the event. Chi Raq is available to view in full on Protein TV.
SLAMXHYPE: Hi Will, what drew you to Chicago?
Will Robson-Scott: I first went to Chicago to do a picture story with the L.E.P bogus boys for Vibe magazine. I thought I was aware of what was going on in Chicago but had never heard the term “Chiraq”, the stories I heard in Chicago got me interested. The acceptance of violence within parts of the community is quite shocking.
SXH: From your experience there, what are the main factors causing the violence, as far as you can tell?
WR-S: I have not spent enough time in Chicago to really start analysing the causes of violence, and this problem is not strictly a Chicago issue, it’s very much an American issue. The plain and simple fact is that being able to get guns is going to mean more problems with guns. Chicago is a city of two halves, one half affluent and then the South and West Side are hugely under invested in. There’s a huge range of issues stemming from the breakdown of families, to role models, schooling, even down to things like diet.
SXH: With the exception of a couple of characters in the film who introduce themselves, none of the people featured are introduced to the viewer, remaining anonymous. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
WR-S: It was not meant to make people anonymous, it was either down to the edit or the people not introducing themselves on camera.
SXH: One thing you mentioned after the screening was that people in these neighbourhoods aren’t necessarily trying to ‘glorify’ the violence, as the violence is, in fact, all they know. It’s everyday life. Can you expand on that thought?
WR-S: I want to make one thing clear, there are many, many people in the South and West side of Chicago that do not accept the violence and are trying to fight against it but it’s a very hard thing to fight against when it is so prevalent. I am a great believer of being a product of your environment and this very much forms how you turn out in life. If you grow up surrounded by violence and crime, this is what you will accept to be normality.
SXH: I’m struck by the fact that no one involved in the violence mentions any solutions. Aside from a couple of community-minded interviewees, they are basically hopeless. While you were in the city was there anyone you met who was actively doing something about it, in a constructive way?
WR-S: Yes, there are many groups trying to change things. ‘The Interrupters’ is a very strong documentary that looks at an organisation that tries to step in before violence erupts within the community. I think a lot of people find it hard when so much is stacked against them, but everyone I came into contact with was amazingly hospitable.
SXH: Watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel this was just an intro to a number of much larger, multifaceted issues. Do you plan to explore these issues further in your work?
WR-S: Yes. This only touches the surface of Chicago’s issues, I would love to explore America and its vastness of issues as well as its positives.
SXH: Will you go back to Chicago?
WR-S: Who knows, I’m sure in some capacity…
SXH: Tell us about the zine that accompanies the film.
WR-S: The zine is a series of images I shot alongside the film. This film will live online but the shelf life of online films is not that long, I hope the zine will be a bit longer living.