Project Phoenix is an endeavour by FoxP2 together with co-directors Robin Goode and Karien Murray from Giant films to document the life-changing journey of a former gang member from a criminal to a welcomed member within society. The documentary will be screened at this year’s Design Indaba FilmFest.
The inspiration for the documentary was rooted in FoxP2 and Giant Films’ interaction with a group of former prisoners for a Brandhouse Drive Dry campaign. The ‘papa wag vir jou’ (papa’s waiting for you) ads featured the type of people you might encounter if you were to land up behind bars due to drunken driving. Through this experience they learnt about the difficulties former inmates face when returning to a normal life within society, especially as they still carry the marks of the gangs they were in on their skin. FoxP2 art director Ryan Barkhuizen says, “Robin (Goode) was a natural choice as he directed our “Pappa Wag Vir Jou” ads for Drive Dry, a campaign that featured ex-prisoners and had a massive cultural impact.”
The death of one of the former inmates/actors shortly after the ads were filmed got FoxP2 Executive Creative Director Justin Gomes thinking about how, and if, creativity could play a role in changing ex-prisoners’ lives. ‘We started looking for someone who was making a change for the good’, says Robin, ‘someone who was rehabilitating, was an ex-gang member. Someone we could connect with’.
With this in mind they met Roger Mouton, an ex-prisoner and former member of the Cape Town Numbers Gang trying to change his life. Roger is someone that is easily relatable, he came from a good family but his life made a turn for the worst after an unfortunate trail of events. When Roger was a child his family was involved in a car accident which claimed the lives of both his younger siblings. His father fell into deep depression which resulted in him shooting his wife and himself. 12 year old Roger was left to fend for himself. Roger was without a family and forced to live by the rules of the streets to survive.
After 18 years of being in a gang Roger decided to turn his life around. However, his tattoos were not in line with his intentions. With the help of Cape Town tattoo artist Manuela Gray of Wildfire Tattoos, Roger was able to find an equilibrium with his inner self and outer appearance. Project Phoenix depicts how thoughtful design transformed Roger’s outer appearance into a symbol of his reformed life. FoxP2 producer Katherine Searle-Tripp, who worked on the project for over a year, says, “People would cross the road when they saw Roger coming. Now they come up to him and ask about his tattoos and tell him how beautiful they are. It is a complete turnaround from what he is used to.”
Through the process, Manuela got the opportunity to see how her creative work had the power to change people’s perceptions. Co-director, Karien Murray says, “They found solutions and ideas together. It was very intimate, very gentle, very calm. Manuela wanted to know all the details, to understand exactly what each of the symbols would mean. It was amazing to see the bond between Manuela and Roger.” FoxP2 copywriter, Alex Goldberg also witnessed the transformation in Manuela and Roger’s relationship, adding, “She is an incredible artist who worked tirelessly to help create pieces that not only reflected Roger’s inner transformation, but became symbols of his life moving forward. The process was organic and we could see how humbling it was for her. The closer Manuela got to understanding Roger’s hopes and dreams, the more the tattoos started to define themselves. Where his body once told a tale of crime and fear, it now tells a story of hope and rebirth. This journey changed everyone involved. To see her work change the nature in which people perceived Roger, and the way he saw himself, was truly inspirational and we could see the affect it had on Manuela.”
The team tried to capture the essence of what Roger has been through in his life through shooting re-enactments in order for the audience to visualise his journey and access his memories and emotions in an authentic way. Karien says, “We shot some re-enactments, some are very abstract and subjective…It’s very dreamlike. You step back into his memories. You go into his mind’s-eye.”
In the film, which was shot over the course of a year, you see Roger come back from adversity and reunite with his estranged wife and children.
Agency: FoxP2 Cape Town
ECD: Justin Gomes
CD: Doug Larter
AD: Ryan Barkhuizen, Heidi Kasselman
CW: Alex Goldberg, Safaraaz Sindhi
Agency Producer: Katherine Searle-Tripp, Jeanne Odendaal
Client Service: Charl Thom, Laurel Mader
Agency Editor: Aviwe Apleni
Production Company: Giant Films
Director: Robin Goode, Karien
Designer: Manuela Gray
Producer: Di Du Toit, Laura Sampson, Paula Raphael
Editor: Anthony Lee Martin
Music: Clare Vandeleur, Raiven Hansmann
Sound: Popsicle Studios
Sound Design: Sasha Righini
Photographer: Bryan Traylor