Broken Song is an observational journey into Dublin’s growing Northside hip hop scene. Rashers Tierney caught this interview with director Claire Dix.
Filmed in dramatic black and white, the documentary showcases the poetic lyricism of the Working Class Records camp, and how it relates to their own hopes and backgrounds. It premieres tonight at the JDIFF, so at this stage you’ve probably missed it. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye peeled for future screenings.
Where did the film start for you guys? What made you interested in doing a piece on the whole Ballymun hip hop scene?
A couple of years ago while making a television programme for DCTV about community art I met Dean Scurry – an artist and youth worker – who was working out in the Ballymun Axis centre. He introduced me to GI (Git) and Costello (James) and after hearing them rap acapella I really wanted to explore the idea of making a piece of film about what they were doing. At the time I thought it would be a short doc. I was working with Nodlag on another film at the time, she liked what she heard too and together we started shaping the doc and looking for funding.
There was recently a lot of reaction to an RTE projected called Ireland’s Rappers – it was fairly widely lambasted. Was there a feeling that someone needed to set the record straight and treat things from a much different (less sensationalist maybe…) perspective? No, we had started pre-production by the time Ireland’s Rappers aired and had already had a couple of years of talking to the lads about what we wanted to do. I always wanted to have a dream-like or other-worldly element to the film. One of the first times I spoke to Costello about the creative process and how he felt about hip hop he told me that the first time he heard a hip hop track he lay back on his bed, really listened to the lyrics and felt like he left the room. I loved that image of the music taking him out of his surroundings and wanted the film to explore that part of the creative process – the more surreal or dreamlike.
What did you know about Working Class Records before setting out on the project? Are you guys fans of hip hop?
I had never heard of Working Class Records so it was an education for me!
The opening scenes, of the lads going around the area, meeting and offering support to younger aspiring rappers is great. It suggest the scene really has roots out there. Were you surprised by the sheer numbers of people it seems to be engaging?
Yea it’s amazing. While we were filming people who were just strolling past would come up and start rapping with the lads. GI and Costello work with lots of younger guys out in Finglas, encouraging them to write or make beats whatever they’re interested in. So that opening scene with them around Finglas and Ballymun is just how it is. I’d like to say thanks to all those guys who agreed to be in the film because a lot of them are just writing their fledgling raps and it was brave of them to allow a camera to witness that process.
Where were the beats? I noticed there was very little of the actual musical side represented, there’s a scene of GI messing with an MPC at one stage – but very little of the actual hip hop beats themselves feature.Was this a conscious decision to let the viewer sit with the lyricism of their writing or where did it come from?
When I first met GI and Costello I heard them rap acappella like I mentioned in the first question and I suppose that was what got me interested in their work – the spoken word element of it – the lyricism as you say. Sometimes when I’m involved in a project for a long period of time I find that I can loose the strength of the enthusiasm I had at the very beginning for it and in order to get back to that I think it’s a good idea to remind myself what it was that got me excited about the idea at the very beginning. With this project it was that day in Ballymun with Dean and lads hearing them rap “Flawless” with no beats.
How long did you spend with the participants? And did they have any role in directing how they wanted the film to be produced and directed?
We filmed for a couple of days in March, then we took a break for a few months, filmed throughout the summer and finished in November. We always discussed our intentions and vision for the film with Costello and GI but it was very much my response as a filmmaker to their work.
It’s a music documentary, did you guys bury yourselves away and do some cramming on what other people have done with similar subject matter? If so, what documentaries in similar vein would you recommend to our readers?
We looked at lots of films not just music docs -Bruce Weber’s film about Chet Baker, another reel art film – Pat Collins’ film about Tim Robinson, Pyjama Girls, Sleep Furiously.
Have you any advice for film makers that would like to see their work showcased at something like the JDIFF?
The funding from the Arts Council included a premier at JDIFF which was a fantastic element to the award. So we were lucky there. I think you have to send your work to lots of festivals because it can be difficult to gauge which films will be selected. I’ve had films that have won best film at one festival and been rejected completely from others.
What is the Reel Art Scheme that funded the project?
It’s an Arts Council scheme run in associated with JDIFF and Filmbase where they look for films about Irish artists or art movements. On the Arts Council’s website thy say that the scheme is there to support films that otherwise wouldn’t get made. It’s a fantastic award, the funders give you complete creative freedom.