The Festival Rag 5 Sides of a Coin By Michelle Paster Canadian filmmaker Paul Kell's feature documentary, 5 Sides of a Coin, premiered at this year's 2003 AFI International Film Festival. It showcases interviews and footage from some of the world's top hip-hop artists, including Grandmaster Flash, Phase Too, Run DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, Jurassic 5, Prince Paul, The Beatnuts, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Mix Master Mike, Rahzel, Spearhead, and DJ Krush, among others. The Festival Rag's Michelle Paster heaves Qs towards Paul Kell, who throws back some As. Michelle Paster: Why hip-hop as opposed to another musical genre? Paul Kell: For me, hip-hop isn't about being a genre. It transcends musical boundaries, which is probably why it's spread so far abroad. It's giving people a new way of living, a new way of thinking. I suppose you could draw the parallels to what rock 'n' roll once was as a movement, but I have a feeling that because of the multiple elements (emcee, deejay, writing, breakin', beatboxin', etcetera) Hip-hop goes so much further, much deeper. Ultimately, I think it's something that comes closer to touching what's innate or primal within every one of us. MP: What is hip-hop to you? Has your definition changed since making this film? PK: The best answer I can come up with is that it's a way of life. I don't know if I ever had a definition when I started out, and I still don't know if I do today. The bottom line is that it's many different things to many different people. Perhaps your definition is affected by what your relationship is to it, which in my case would mean that I'm an outsider looking in, and that I don't really have the right to have an opinion. On the other hand I did grow up with it and it was a major influence on my development. At one point, as an 11-year old, I tried breakin', but learning from a K-Tel record's pullout poster didn't cut it. MP: Jeru says hip-hop is the "earth, the dirt" and the "ultimate outlet of artistic expression." This reminds me of hip-hop's roots in vaudeville, blues and jazz. What do you think about that? PK: Hip-hop's roots go back much farther than the Black experience in America -even though they are a part of its history. The truth is you can go as far back in time as is possible for humans: it all started with the drum and hip-hop just brought the drum back to the forefront. MP: Dash 167 says, "White people like you - they won't come to the Bronx to see you, [but] Roxy performances led to deals and international status." Did you have difficulties getting honest material? PK: Back in the '70s white people didn't go to the Bronx because they'd probably get into trouble. Today things are different, but even while I was shooting in New York there were white New Yorkers that thought I was nuts for spending so much time in Harlem and the Bronx, especially at night. Perhaps I was too na´ve to see the dangers, but I always felt welcome, and I always felt safe. The truth is, I've gone into a number of neighborhoods, restaurants and clubs where I was the only white guy. I didn't have a problem with it, and nobody else did either. On the other hand, if a black person went into an all-white neighborhood, they probably would have themselves a problem. What does that say about tolerance in America? MP: Did any of the artists or public relations people think it strange or out of place for a white man to be inquiring about hip-hop culture for a film? PK: Nope. Race was never an issue, which almost everyone in hip-hop will tell you. I might have felt or have been out of place in certain circumstances, but once you get to know people, you forget about skin tones. MP: Tell me how you went from saying, "I want to make this film" to actually making it. PK: It's taken me almost four and a half years to get to where I am today. It started out as an idea for a short documentary on the local scene and it grew into what it became. As for how I took it from an idea to the camera, I just bought a camera and did it. What's next: Paul has an emcee-battle reality TV show called Scorch the Mic in the works. He will also be producing and directing the pilot for Teddy's Vittles, a show that will introduce the world to the genius of Theodore Thomas.