FIRE ON THE HILL: THE COWBOYS OF SOUTH CENTRAL L.A. – A Review by John Strange
While I am from Texas and truly believe in the Cowboy Way, I am not a cowboy. However, I have ridden horses since I was a kid and love their majesty. It is one of the reasons I love working with cowboy-related organizations and charities. Cowboys and cowgirls are some of the best people on the planet.
And the love of horses, the majestic animals ridden by shining knights and western cowboys, is pretty universal. Whether you’re in Dallas Texas or Compton California, the discipline required to take care of your horse(s) doesn’t leave a lot of time or desire to join or run with gangs much less do drugs recreationally.
Compton, California is not exactly a place you think of when the words horse or rodeo are brought up. But the hometown of N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube – the original West Coast rappers), the land of gang wars and drive-by shootings, and sisters Serena and Venus Williams of tennis fame, has also seen its share of horses and their riders walking (and running) through its streets.
Fire on the Hill: The Cowboys of South Central L.A. is an up-close look at the men in Compton who have found that horses are indeed the answer to the gangs. Some, like Chris Byrd, are doing their best to make it on the rodeo circuit. Others, like Ghuan Featherstone, ride horses for the love of horses. Ghuan wants to help kids find a way that doesn’t involve drugs or gangs.
The riders generally start out borrowing horses and tack to get their rides and find a way to afford a horse and tack of their own. All so they can ride around town with other Compton Cowboys. This horse-centric culture revolved around the local stables, The Hill. These stables were where most black men and women were pushed by the owners and clients of the other stables in the L.A. to board their horses.
Then there was a fire at The Hill. The fire was put out but the stables were condemned for multiple fire-code violations, forcing everyone to scramble for places to stable their beloved animals.
The documentary by Brett Fallentine follows several of the men who were a part of the group who had boarded their horses at The Hill. Calvin Gray’s first-hand accounts of the fire are so sad. He really helps us understand the feeling of community felt by the people boarding their horses.
We see how hard Ghuan works to get The Hill reopened. The path to resurrect the stable requires him to spend hours upon hours and call after call as he tries to get the land’s owner to talk to him about selling or leasing the land to him.
We see just how hard this task is, interspersed with seeing why it is such a worthwhile goal. The riders are very friendly with the citizens they meet on their rides. These folks are at first amazed to see the men on their animals and then many just want to touch or pet the horses. All of this is excellent public relations for the cowboys.
The other group followed are the rodeo riders. We see several bull rides that take place in rodeos all over the western US, most that don’t meet the complete the 8-second ride to qualify rule. This group travels to a lot of the rodeos by bus or “truck-pool” to save money, something they don’t have much of until the day they manage to get sponsors or win some big purses.
This story, despite showing us some personal setbacks and marital problems, is a positive picture of a sub-culture that is helping youngsters (and adults) find a way of life that doesn’t include gangs or drugs.
These folks follow the Cowboy Way. West coast, east coast, or Texas; black, white, red, or any other skin color, followers of the Cowboy Way are all the same. The cowboys coming out of Compton are living their lives using the Cowboy Way. This makes them good folks in my book.
Fire on the Hill: The Cowboys of South Central L.A. is a well-made documentary, worthy of the 5-stars I am giving it. I saw it at the EarthXFilm festival this week. You can follow their path through the festival circuit and perhaps find an opportunity to see this story using the link to their official site below.
Directed by: Brett Fallentine
Cast: William Bias, Chris Byrd, Ghuan Featherstone, Derrick Finnels, Steve Goedert, Calvin Gray, Scott Grover, Lemontre Hosley, Chad Nicholson
MPAA Rating: NR
Selig Rating: 5 Stars
Runtime: 84 Min.
Movie Site: www.fireonthehill.la
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.