Day 3: Sundance 2008
On my flight into Park City on Wednesday night, I had a chance to meet Walid Zaiter, the co-producer and editor of Jackie Reem Salloum’s Slingshot Hip Hop, who filled me in on all the twelfth-hour madness of trying to finish the film before its Sundance debut in the Documentary Competition. (The reel arrived the same day we did.) I had already planned on seeing the doc, which profiles several Palestinian hip-hop crews, both within Israel and the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank —in fact, it was high on my list of must-sees—but hearing about the Slingshot team’s post-production travails intrigued me further. After seeing the movie yesterday, I can say with confidence that lives up to its billing.
Inspired by Tupac Shakur and other black American rap artists, as well as the writings of Che Guevara and Edward Said, groups like DAM (whose Internet-distributed track, “Who’s the Terrorist?” kicked off the underground hip-hop resistance movement in Palestine) and PR (a Gazan group whose initials stand for Palestinian Rapperz) sling rhymes instead of rocks, giving expression to the frustrations and indignities of life in their homeland. Buildings, homes, and schools are razed in their ‘hoods, travel is severely restricted, and work is scarce. Most youth are bored out of their minds. But like so many of the world’s disaffected, they’ve adopted a street-specific artform and made it their own, exemplifying the global appeal of hip hop. Some of these artists, like Akka resident Mahmoud Shalabi, also take their activism to the streets, encouraging their younger peers to make music and be proud of their heritage.
One of the dramatic turning points in Slingshot Hip Hop concerns the efforts of Gaza’s isolated rap outfit, PR (Palestinian Rapperz), to travel to Ramallah for the first-ever group concert of all the far-flung hip-hoppers in the region, who have been in contact by phone and Internet, but have never met in person. Needless to say, they have a tough time making the gig. And then there are the spunky female rappers, like Lyd native Abeer, who are doubly controversial due to the cultural prejudice against women performing on stage. Throughout the film, we tour the walled-in, bombed-out precincts where these kids live and witness the difficulties, say, of speaking Arabic on a bus in Israel or cutting a studio album with intermittent electricity, not to mention a paucity of funds. Their defiant positivity, given these conditions and the militant alternatives available to them, are astounding. The politics aren’t subtle, but Slingshot Hip Hop’s high-spirited pop sensibility and energetic graphics had a palpable effect on the audience I saw the movie with. Plus the beats, like the witty wordplay, are slamming.