Top 10 Hip Hop Odyssey Film Festival Films of 2007


For the last 5 years, the Hip-Hop Association – a small non-profit in NYC made up of volunteer Hip-Hop aficionados – has produced the largest global Hip-Hop film festival. The H2O [Hip-Hop Odyssey] International Film Festival showcases the works of independent and established filmmakers to offer the community an alternative wide lens into the culture of hip-hop. The festival has grown into a world-class event, uniting filmmakers whose mission is to uplift, redefine, and represent hip-hop.

This year’s films were outstanding depictions of the hip-hop landscape. We’re coming of age and you can see that we have learned some hard lessons. It is also evident that we are survivors, and though we are products of our environment, this doesn’t define us or hold us back from becoming proactive citizens and even, legends. These films exemplify the next level of hip-hop Cinema, and these filmmakers are the next element of hip-hop – artists painting a picture using multimedia. Here are my ten award-winning picks:

1. Bling: A Planet Rock (USA/Sierra Leone) – Directed by Raquel Cepeda
Bling: A Planet Rock is an enthralling 87-minute documentary about American hip-hop culture’s obsession with diamonds—“blinging”— all of its social trappings, and how this infatuation correlated with the ten-year conflict in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Written and directed by multi-media journalist, editor, and filmmaker, Raquel Cepeda, the film follows three rappers—Paul Wall, Tego Calderon, and Raekwon—as they trek to the country to meet the survivors, perpetrators and diamond miners in the country. The film also features Kanye West, Juelz Santana, Jadakiss and former child soldier/author Ishmael Beah.

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2. Frekuensia Kolombiana (Colombia) – Directed by Vanessa Gocksch
Frekuensia Kolombiana explores the traditional forms of Colombian music and its relation to hip-hop. By way of interviews, events, situations and landscapes, the documentary uncovers youths that construct from segregation and create a movement of hope and truth. The documentary captures their effort to self-produce, organize and increase their knowledge, and their necessity to perpetuate, communicate, give and exist. Through the lyrics of Camajan Club, Por Razones de Estado, Zona Marginal and others, we discover the lucid consciousness of young people that, through art, seek to awaken and renew their society. They represent the voice of the Colombian street youth.

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3. Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes (USA) – Directed by Byron Hurt
Beyond Beats and Rhymes is a riveting 60-minute documentary that examines representations of gender roles in hip-hop and rap music through the lens of filmmaker Byron Hurt, a former college quarterback turned activist. Conceived as a “loving critique” from a self-proclaimed “hip-hop head,” Hurt examines issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture.

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4. Hiphopistan: Representing Locality in A Global City (Turkey) – Directed by Cigdem Akbay
Hiphopistan is a 35-minute documentary that examines the impact of hip-hop culture on Instanbul youth. It also reveals how young Turkish Rappers, DJs, breakdancers, and graffiti artists creatively blend popular influences with their local cultural values and traditions. While providing a glimpse into the lives of innovative youth in a predominantly Muslim and rapidly globalizing city, this film raises awareness of the many similarities of youth culture worldwide.

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5. I love Hip-Hop in Morocco – (USA/Morocco) Directed by Joshua Asen and Jennifer Needleman
In 2004, Josh Asen received a Fulbright grant to study the effects of American hip-hop on Moroccan youth culture. He linked up with his best friend from Brown University and embarked on the creation of their first feature-length film. I Love Hip-Hop in Morocco is an 80-minute documentary that follows a group of Moroccan Hip Hop artists that dream of creating their own festival, but resistance is strong and money is scarce. They appeal to the American Embassy for funding and begin the unlikely journey that leads to the realization of their dream the “I love Hip Hop in Morocco” festival.

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6. Mr. Devious (South Africa) – Directed by John Fredericks
Mr. Devious is a definitive work of art directed by writer and filmmaker, John Fredericks. This is an uplifting story of a talented son of Mitchell’s Plain, South Africa, Mario van Rooney a.k.a. “Mr. Devious,” who used his gift for music to inspire young people to rise above the stigma of poverty and gangesterism. The film tracks his journey from his humble beginning as a kid in the Cape Flats to his rise to fame as a musician and hip-hop artists, and later as he grows into the roles of dedicated father of two daughters, and educator and facilitator of youth at risk. After Mario is violently killed, out the darkness, a strong voice emerges, as his wife, Natalia van Rooy, picks up his spear and makes meaning of his legacy.

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7. Rock The Bells (USA) – Directed by Casey Suchan and Denis Hennelly
Personifying the fierce independence and Do-It-Yourself spirit of the hip-hop Movement, festival producer Chang Weisberg puts everything on the line for his impossible dream of reuniting notorious no-shows, the Wu-Tang Clan. Furiously paced and rich with multiple narratives, Rock The Bells follows Weisberg and his guerilla promotion team as they fight for the arrival of all nine Wu-Tang members, battle broken equipment and overwhelming security, attempt to control the riotous crowd in the overheated, over-crowded venue and deliver the history-making show they promised. Rock The Bells marks the feature directorial debut for Casey and Denis, although, these two have been producing critically acclaimed Hip-Hop documentaries like, Thug Angel and The Freshest Kids.

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8. Wholetrain (Germany) – Directed by Florian Gaag
Wholetrain is an exciting and emotionally gripping drama, one that explores for the first time the secret universe of the graffiti scene. The protagonists exist in a breathless state, suspended somewhere between two worlds: their day-to-day life, and their existence within the crew. Florian Gaag manages to recount a tale colored by tension and aggression. The result is a multi-sided portrait of characters whose world has never been documented in this way before. Their subculture remains authentic and realistic. Edgy editing and grandiloquent camerawork, a pulsating soundtrack and an excellent ensemble of actors, make Wholetrain a film experience not to be missed.

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9. Wu: The Story of the Wu-tang Clan (USA) – Directed by Gerald Barclay
Gerald Barclay has been making music videos for Snoop Dogg, Master P, and Nona Hendrix, to name a few. He has also made a great award-winning documentary about Liberia that is still hailed as monumental in the telling of the war that ravaged that nation. His crowning achievement, though, might just be the documentary of one of the most talented hip-hop pioneer groups from the 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan. In the summer of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan emerged from the slums of Staten Island and took the hip-hop world by storm. Their legacy spanned over a decade, selling more than twenty million albums. Their talents brought them success and their music made them legends. This is includes spectacular never before seen interviews and rare concert footage. A must see for the millions of Wu-Tang fans. Starring The Wu Tang Clan as themselves, featuring: Bonz Malone, Popa Wu, Bobbito Garcia, Ralph McDaniels, and Gano Grills.

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10. Hip-Hop Project (USA) – Directed by Matt Ruskin
After graduating NYU, Matt worked on the Hip-Hop Project exclusively for more than five years. The Hip-Hop Project is the compelling story of Kazi, a formerly homeless teenager who inspired a group of New York City teens to transform their life stories into powerful works of art, using hip-hop as a vehicle for self-development and personal discovery. Kazi challenges these young people to write music about real issues affecting their lives as they overcome daunting obstacles to produce a collaborative album. Hip-hop Mogul, Russell Simmons, partners up with Bruce Willis to donate a recording studio to the Hip-Hop Project. After four years of collaboration, the group produces a powerful and thought-provoking CD filled with moving personal narratives and sharp social commentary. In contrast to all the negative attention focused on hip-hop and rap music, this is a story of hope, healing, and the realizations of dreams.

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Honorable Mentions
I want to give a special shout out to our Hip-Hop pioneers, Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, and Ernie Paniccioli, whose classic work inspired and started our hip-hop Documentary /Cinematic movement. They deserve much love and respect, as they continue to create and captivate audiences in so many ways. Check this out.

From Mambo To Hip-Hop – Directed by Henry Chalfant
From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale – This musical panorama examines the rhythms that blossomed in the South Bronx from the late 1940s when mambo burst onto the scene through the birth of hip-hop in the ’70s. It chronicles two generations that grew up on the same streets and used rhythm as their form of rebellion – the older generation took their sound from Cuba and their children created rap. The film features such celebrated artists as Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Benny Bonilla, Willie Colon, Africa Bambaata, Kool Herc, and Kid Freeze.

Redder Than Red – Directed by Martha Cooper
Redder Than Red is a 17-minute documentary about Hanifa Queen Hudson aka Bubbles, the legendary first UK female breakdancer. Hanifa Queen danced with a renowned Wolverhampton crew called The B-Boys in the early 80’. The B-boys rose to fame with appearances on TV and in the landmark Hip Hop films Electro Rock and Bombin’. Bubbles was the first girl worldwide to break and compete on the same level as the guys. Bubbles became famous through a line in Electro Rock when the host says: “Check out the one in red—it’s a girl!”

The Deadly Art of Survival – Directed by Charlie Ahearn
Before Charlie Ahearn shot his seminal hip-hop film “Wild Style” in 1982, he was directly exposed to the bourgeoning hip-hop, break-dancing and graffiti movement, while shooting his super-8 martial arts epic “The Deadly Art of Survival” around the projects (next door to his apartment) in the Lower East Side in 1979. It stars Nathan Ingram, a true to life martial arts hero, who in this movie version struggles against local drug dealers operating from a rival karate school called the disco dojo. The local handball courts were painted by graffiti legend Lee Quinones, who went on to star in “Wild Style.” This film is a must see for anyone interested in the roots of hip-hop at the intersection of Lower East Side art world, in the late seventies.

The Other Side of Hip Hop: The Sixth Element – Directed by Dion Ashman
This documentary details the life, struggles, politics and work of longtime Hip-Hop Photo Activist Brother Ernie Paniccioli. Brother Ernie has been covering hip-hop culture since the early 1970’s. Starting in a time when it was not fashionable to shoot hip-hop artists Brother Ernie would eventually shoot everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Little Bow Wow. Now his story is being told for the greater public to see.

This was not an easy task to compile this list. There were so many other films worth mentioning such as, Transformations, Waters Rising, Spit!, and Couscous and Cola. The ladies definitely made a statement this year by the overwhelming number of submissions. They showed diversity, strength, and class through movies like, Lady Beatmakers, Yellow, The Art of Love and Struggle, and Counting Headz from South Africa. I could imagine what next year will be like, as it is officially being proclaimed, 2008 ~ Year of the Hip-Hop Woman!

Finally, I just to have to give props to Will Smith for his $77,211,321 weekend debut of I Am Legend. He did not only produce it, he also broke the record for biggest December opener of all times. He continues to be the greatest entertainer to represent for the Hip-Hop generation. Skies the limit baby!


Martha Diaz is an educator, community organizer, filmmaker, and the founder of the Hip-Hop Association.

See our interview with her here.

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