Set in Ballymun and Finglas, Broken Song is a documentary film about the local hip-hop scene.
Bantry-born filmmaker, Claire Dix, confesses she was sceptical of Irish hip-hop, but when she met some of the scene’s leading lights, she knew there was a compelling story to be told.
“I met GI and Costello, in a room in the Record Centre in Ballymun, and they just rapped one of their pieces, called ‘Flawless’,” she says. “And there was just something about it, just the honesty and the lyricism and the power in the words, and in the way they delivered it.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I think that kind of stuff is always good with character. When you get something from a character that you’re not expecting to get, that’s always interesting.”
Best known for her award-winning short fiction films, Free Chips Forever and Downpour, Dix was an outsider to hip-hop, but with her years of making observational documentaries, she could identify.
“I really liked the ethos of that, of kinda really getting involved with a community group, or in an area, building up trust,” she says.
Her work with Dublin Community Television put her in contact with artist and youth worker, Dean Scurry, who introduced her to GI and Costello.
Initially, Dix wasn’t looking beyond the bounds of a short documentary, but having discussed the idea with her producer, Bandon native, Nodlag Houlihan, the project became more ambitious.
When Dix outlined her proposal to Costello, he was on board.
“I said ‘I want to represent you as poets’. I said ‘I really don’t know anything about hip-hop, so you’ll have to educate me. But I don’t want to make a documentary. It’s not like the definitive guide to hip-hop in Ireland, or anything like that, or in Dublin. Or, even I don’t think it’s going to be a hip-hop documentary; I think it’s going to be a documentary about you guys as poets. And that’s because that’s what I think is what I can connect with. I can connect with the lyrics and the words, what you’re trying to say and how you’re delivering it, and I want the film then to have a kind of poetic, dreamy kind of feel’.”
“Costello started talking about how hip-hop makes him feel. I kinda knew that I wanted that kind of buzz. I think Costello really got that. He started saying that the first time he ever heard hip-hop, he laid back on his bed and he listened to the track and he felt like he left the room. And I was, ‘that’s really good. That’s lovely, dreamy kind of imaginative imagery and I want the film to have that kind of edge to it.’ And I think he really liked that approach I was taking.”
Costello wasn’t alone in this. At last year’s Dublin Film Festival, Broken Song walked away with both the Discovery and the Audience Awards.
“It’s an arthouse film, as well,” Dix says, acknowledging the support of the Arts Council’s Reel Art scheme. “That’s the thing. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s quite slow-moving. It has a poetic kind of slant on it. So, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s the kind of film we wanted to make.”
* Broken Song screens at Triskel Christchurch from February 7 — 10.
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