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Festival Review
2nd Annual Atlanta
Hip Hop Film Festival


April 27-30, 2006
Atlanta Auburn Avenue Research Library and other locations

By Spencer Moon

Hip hop has come of age now with over 30 years of musical popularity. A film festival devoted to this musical genre means that popular cinema has embraced it as a topic.

The audience for hip hop films is not a typical audience. The films in the Annual Atlanta Hip Hop Film Festival held on April 27-30, 2006 represented a variety of perspectives on the subject from both a narrative and documentary perspective. More than 90 percent of the screenings were free and most of the films screened during the day before 5 p.m. This made for smaller audiences, which were no less avid because of their size. The discussions following the film screenings were as mercurial as hip hop music.

To someone over the age of 50 (like myself), the festival was a graduate level education on contemporary hip hop music and culture. If hip hop is the latest news from the youth community, then this festival was the five, six, and eleven o'clock news. I would have to give the festival an "A." This year's festival included a Saturday Block Party, two panel discussions ("Distribution/Independent Filmmakers" and "Social Responsibility"), and over 30 films.

The closing ceremonies at the Carter Center featured the premier of Dead Prez: It's bigger Than Hip Hop, the first feature length concert film about the group Dead Prez including interviews with M-1 and stic.man.

Thursday

I was stunned by what I saw as I approached the venue. On the front of the building and on an adjacent wall were two huge signs easily 10 feet high by 50 feet wide announcing the festival. The sign sported the logo of a festival sponsor, Starz. The path to the front entrance was covered in a big purple carpet. I thought, "Wow. Obviously some good money was spent on this."

Thursday's screenings ran from 10a.m. until 9p.m. Of the 14 films that ran, I managed to view seven, but two films were not screened for technical reasons. My favorite film Thursday was:

Scene Not Heard: Women in Philadelphia Hip Hop (2006), 45 minutes, documentary. Produced and directed by Maori Karmael Holmes. Ms. Holmes, although born in Southern California, was raised in Atlanta. Her stint in Atlanta led to her spending time as an actress in the acclaimed Freddie Hendricks' Ensemble of Atlanta.

Ms. Holmes has taken her now-adopted city of Philadelphia and rendered an informative and well-executed documentary that allows the women of Philly hip hop to be seen and heard. We get some history that chronicles the rise and fall of a club in Philadelphia that opened in 1999 called "The Black Lilly." The club allowed women artists, rappers, DJs, dancers, and poets to thrive within the context of their own venue. The Black Lilly closed in 2005 because of issues related to finance, chauvinism, patriarchy, and single parenthood for some of the women.

The people who speak and perform in this work is a who's who of Philadelphia hip hop. They included entertainment lawyers, hip hop artists, poets, dancers, visual artists, and radio personalities: The B Girls, MC Versus, Ursal Rucker, Lady B, Keen, Killa Cass, Floetry, Lady Alma to name a few. Another important issue that the film addresses is Philadelphia being seen as in the shadow of New York City where all the major recording deals seem to happen.