Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Kool Skool Interviews - Documentary Film Maker and Skateboard Legend Winstan Whitter & "The Four Aces Story"

Live Act at the Four Aces

The Kool Skool Interviews Documentary Film Maker and Skateboard Legend Winstan Whitter

Winstan Whitter

Winstan Whitter wears many hats, Sponsored Skateboader, Director/Film Maker, Director Of Photography, DJ and Youth Mentor As a young teen after being swept up in the mid-80’s skateboarding resurgence, he became a perminant fixture at London’s Street skating home, at the South Bank Centre. For over twenty years he tore it up, later competing across Europe as a sponsored team member of Blind Skates, and anyone who was a part of that scene knows his legendary status as a trick innovator and positive player in the Skate scene.

Skateboard Legend Winstan Whitter

The early 90’s ushered in a new direction for Winstan as he started filming for Skateboard films, including the groundbreaking monthly 411 video series. As Director of Photography has been involved with music promos for artist like: Dizzee Rascal, Taz, The Streets, Twang, Soundbwoy, Audio Bullies, Terri Walker, 27 Beats and Professor Green, and also EPK’s/Documentary’s for 4Play (Channel 4) with artists like: Echo&The Bunny men, Scissor Sisters, Fatman Scoop, The Hoosiers, The Fray, Lionel Ritchie, John Legend and Paul McCartney.

His strong sense of community has led him to the Education sector conducting many Youth workshops for Connections, Hackney Empire, Creative Partnerships, ENO Baylis and Special Schools Trust and mentored on the Branchage Bootcamp.

His first major self shot and directed documentary Rollin Through The Decades, dealt with the history of the UK Skateboard movement, and how it affected the different generations involved. Gaining much critical acclaim, it ran in cinemas across the UK and was screened at several Cities world wide, and is available to purchase on DVD. In 2007 Winstan created a Documentary “Save Southbank” about ‘The Undercroft’ - the sheltered area beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank and the rumours of the local council’s plan’s to turn the legendary Skate spot into yet more retail and Coffee chain space.

DJ Selecting at The Four Aces

His most recent offering Legacy In The Dust: The Four Aces Story is about the first the first Blues/Reggae club in the UK, ‘The Four Aces Club’. For 33 years it showcased the best in Black music the world had to offer, and it later became famous as pioneering Rave club "Labyrinth".

We met up with Winstan to discuss his many projects, his history, and in true Kool Skool fashion we get some advice for up and coming film makers, from a truly self made and positive member of the London scene.

Winstan Whitter surveying the closed Four Aces

When you were younger did you ever imagine that you would be a film maker?

No but I always loved movies back then! When was it that you decided to focus on documentary film making, and was there a director or film that really inspired you to follow that route? It started in 97, I wasn’t really inspired by any director or documentary to start making them, it was out of frustration that I got into making them.

You have focussed on a lot of fringe social groups, how important is it for you to give them a voice?

It’s important because they haven’t been voiced, and certain stories haven’t been told that are so very important to the older and younger generations of today. Lots of heritage is disappearing, the older generation are passing on along with there stories and histories. They need to be voiced because not many film makers are focusing on so called fringe social groups.

Four Aces Party People

The thing that really comes across in your films, is you get a real sense that you have a great love and respect for your subject, and the people you interview.

I try to honour people’s testimonies and stories in its true spirit. As a film maker it’s important to be into the story your telling 100%, because you have to convince the viewers and put them amongst your story tellers, as if they are a part of the story, conversation and atmosphere!

Four Aces Flyer

Newton and Motown Soul Legend Jimmy Ruffin

What is your connection to the Four Aces, and how did Legacy In The Dust start out as a project?

It started out when I bought my first video camera Hi-8 Video Camera in 97 halfway through an evening film class I was doing at that time! My brother Stanley Greaves at that time was working at The Four Aces Club, he mentioned that I should film some of the nights they have down there just for memories sake! So I did and it was training for me as a cameraman film maker in getting more new experiences doing video work! As time went on to 1998 Mr Newton, who owned the club told me that it might be closing for good. Then I realised that it was really important to follow this through, by documenting every last minute of the venues last days, which continued long after the club closed in 1999.

Four Aces Membership Card

How did the project develop? Did you always want to do a film about the 4 Aces, or did it just happen organically?

It happened organically. The story was very clear from when it got closed down, but [the viewer] needs to know the out come of the building and what it would become after the club. So when it got knocked down in 2007, then I knew I had a complete film!

Selection of Various Four Aces/Laberynth Flyers

As the Reggae scene was so underground back in the early days did you find it hard to track down the footage of the early Reggae movement?

It was very hard to track down footage, because in those times the Reggae fraturnity didn’t like cameras around the dances, it was always very darkly lit, so some footage is very dark. I searched high and low through the archives but found a few gems!

How easy was it to locate the people featured in Legacy In The Dust for interviews? Was there anyone who you wanted to interview but couldn’t find?

It was very difficult to track down certain people for sure and some just fell into place like fate! There are a lot of people that I didn’t get though; a lot of them were the high profile music artists!

Due to the relationship with the local Police and the way the West Indian community is typecast, especially in those days, you get the impression in your film that it was a constant battle to keep the Four Aces open. When you started the project, did you anticipate that politics, and the issues of Racism would feature in the documentary so prominantly?

Oh yeah, I anticipated the racist elements for sure, because I experienced them there my self during the raids in the 90s, and being a youngster with my dad, when he was working there in the 80. Also just being around Dalston and Sandringham road area. It was very important to focus on these stories, because the Four Aces was right in the middle of it, and became the main source for the Police and Council to interrogate [people]!

In the UK the cultural legacy and influence of the Black community is not really celebrated, let alone acknowledged, how important was it for you to highlight that. Do you think that this film will expose that gift to a wider audience?

I realise that yes. There are a great many cultural histories throughout the UK that have not been put into the perspective of film. There are lots of positive histories but people only seem to focus on the negative cultural history. So here I am the one who is trying to do my part in enlightening educating and inspiring people, to start telling untold stories that have been forgotten. Legacy is the first one of my collection of films to highlight these stories, to a much greater audience across the world! The quest has begun!

Labyrinth Flyer from 1992

Did you find that there were any similarities between the attitudes and outlook between the Reggae crowd of The Four Aces and the Rave crowd of Labyrinth?

There were lots of similarities between the Reggae, Soul and Rave crowds for sure! They were all so into the music and good vibes knowledge, politics, love and fun, but they were all ostracised by the media and were miss represented by everyone. Sharing the same venue unified them all together, as people getting down and making something out of the struggles of life around them!

UK Reggae greats Sir Coxone, Ja Shaka and others perform

How has the Reggae/Rave community responded to your film?

Great! They feel that it was a true representation of what the Club used to be like, it took them back in time. Some said that there are a few things that were not talked about, but you can’t please everyone. Some people who had never been there were really gutted that they never had the chance to go there!

The New Four Aces

At your screening you have been showcasing some of the Reggae artists who started out at The Four Aces, how important is it for you to support the scene now?

Its very important to showcase some of the artists that were a part of that era and who performed at the Four Aces Club, it just makes sense to me to do that, because its all about music at the end of the day! I've had Winston Reedy, Delray Pinnock, Janet Kay, Freetown, Lovella Ellis, Christopher Ellis, The Blackstones and El Crisis perform at some of the screenings we have done so far, which has been wicked man!

I really like the animated sections of the movie, who is the artist responsible for those?

The Illustrations were drawn by Stacey Bradshaw she is a genius! She could visualise exactly what I wanted in the briefs I gave her and put a great twist to it in the colouring of it!

You have worked on (London Posse/1Xtra) Rodney P’s video “Riddim Killa”, have you done other hip hop videos?

Yeah I started out shooting music videos in the late 90s with a friend of mine called Goetz Werner and The Riddim Killer was my second video that I did all the lighting and cinematography on. But went on to do promos for Dizzee Rascal-Graftin and Off to Work and many other promos for the Twang and Streets plus Professor Green, Mr Dead, M Saiyid and Prince Paul (Stetsasonic/De La Soul) in New York.

As you are also a DJ, do you find there are similarities between Djing and Film making?

Definitely because you are entertaining and emotion with a chain of musical and vocal messages and changes. With film its similar through editing, it has musical and vocal changes that provoke a mood, a feeling that is a story, a journey along with the visuals, that takes you into a time capsule.

What new projects are you focussing on now?

I’m researching a story on Dr Kwame Nkrumah (Pan-Africanist and first Independent leader of Ghana) , and will be doing a life story on (Reggae Legend) Sir Alton Ellis, also finishing off a documentary on the History of Sound Systems in Jamaica and UK. Also finishing off a documentary on the Spiritual Herbal Doctor in Ghana, and a Pilot for documentary series on the Art scene in Ghana.

As someone who supports the young people in London, if there was any advice you could give to them or any other up and coming film makers what would that be?

Try and tell stories that haven’t been told before be a leader not a follower! It always starts with a personal story, that passion really shines through your work. When you start to find the other stories, they will become very close to you, because of your passion that you have developed for the story, and the storytellers. Just be honest!

Winstan Whitter Director Of Photography Showreel

Rolling Through The Decade Trailer

Four Aces Trailer

Legacy in the Dust The Four Aces Story Platform exhibition at The Hackney Museum 12 March to 30 May 2009

Private Show at Legacy in the Dust The FourAces Story Platform exhibition at The Hackney Museum

Mr Newton and Winstan Whitter taking questions at the Private Show at Legacy in the Dust The FourAces Story Platform exhibition at The Hackney Museum

If you would like to screen any of Winstan's films. Please visit:

Email: info@thefouracesclub.com



Winstan Whitter on Snipreels

Winstan Whitter on youtube

Save Southbank Film

Email: info@thefouracesclub.com

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