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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
7/22/2004 11:36:49 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Various Artists.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by movies about hip-hop these days. Walk into a music shop and the DVD titles are like a plague: films about Tupac Shakur are worthy of their own section, Snoop Dogg has his own adult films, and there are too many instructional turntablist videos to mention. But one category is strangely absent: a general history of hip-hop.

No filmmaker has attempted to cover the movement from its roots until now. In many ways it's understandable; hip-hop's canvas is gargantuan, and putting it on film would be a global exercise spanning three decades of music.

For Canadian documentary maker Paul Kell, putting together his film Five Sides of a Coin happened by chance.

"When it started out, I was just making a short piece on the local Vancouver hip-hop scene," says the 29-year-old. "I'd just bought a video camera and was doing something that I thought might have some potential appeal for a TV show that I could make."

Accident maybe, but Kell has managed to put together a film that features the who's who of the hip-hop underground. He has captured interviews with and performances from groups such as Jurassic 5 and turntablists such as DJ Qbert.

The film investigates the "five sides" of hip-hop - breakdancing, graffiti, beatboxing, turntablism and MCing - and places them within a historical context. Alongside footage of hip-hop's newer guard are conversations with pioneers Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, and graffiti legend Phase Too.

For a debut feature, the film is an incredible achievement. Kell had a helping hand from the Canada Council for the Arts, giving him the opportunity to interview artists in Europe and Asia - even Melbourne's DJ Dexta gets a guernsey.

"It took the leap into being what I eventually had dreamed it would become: a global look at hip-hop as a culture. With the limited resources I had it gave me the opportunity to do way more than I'd imagined. To this day it still blows me away to find out that it's playing in festivals in Australia or Portugal."

It's been an odd journey for Kell, who has described himself as "non hip-hop", growing up in the Provinces, Saskatchewan - Canada's equivalent of the Wimmera, before heading to film school in Montreal.

"Hip-hop was always a big part of my life but it never really defined my life. Some people might look at me and say, 'What the hell is this guy doing making a hip-hop film?' - and I did get that sometimes. A lot of the time... it's basically a fishbowl approach, being on the outside looking in. But you do have an advantage making documentaries not being on the inside. You're able to approach it more objectively."

Yet even with Kell's fresh approach, the film hasn't broken the ground one would expect. While a sensationalist film such as Biggie and Tupac may draw an eager crowd of rap music fans, Five Sides remains very much entrenched within underground and independent filmmaking in North America. In Canada, Kell had no end of trouble finding a distributor for the film.

"The problem with Canada and the film industry here is that they are always looking to see what's going on in the States before they'll do something in Canada," he says. "That's why, in the end, I sold it to an American distributor, because they could see the potential in it - which was frustrating."

Even more strange is the film's reception in the US. Critically acclaimed, it has failed to hit the mark among the MTV generation or a broader range of rap music fans.

"The critics have been really generous," Kell says. "Variety praised it, I've had great press. What's been a little bit disconcerting is that it doesn't really seem to be on the hip-hop community's radar.

"When I was in Cleveland showing the film, they had a program where for two days they brought in a busload of kids from the inner city. It was the first time I had been to one

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