Film Title: Broken Song
Director: Cllaire Dix
Starring: James Costello, William Lee, Christopher Buckley, Dean Scurry
Running Time: 66 min
This highly original, deeply humane documentary – we’re calling it Dublin’s first hip-hop street opera – proved its mettle with both punters and critics when it took home the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award and was named as the audience’s favourite title at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Broken Song deserves its accolades. It tells an important story in a poetic style without either patronising or glamorising its subjects. Even those with no interest in rap should find themselves alive to its hustle and flow.
The film begins with monochrome footage of young men swimming in north Dublin. Aside from easing us in with an attractive image, the sequence serves to prepare us for the picture’s interest in notions of escape.
We then encounter a number of rappers trying out their rhymes in the streets and parks. Older voices advise them to stay away from the bragging and focus on the positive. All of this is preparation for the film’s focus on three gifted, spirited performers: William “Willa” Lee, James Costello and Christopher “GI” Buckley.
Director Claire Dix deftly slips in biographical details as we follow the trio’s difficult adventures through an often-unappreciative city. All have difficulties, but Willa is, perhaps, the most troubled. We watch him argue with his formidable mum, take advice from impressive mentor Dean Scurry – maestro of WorkinClassRecords – and seek to avoid a custodial sentence for theft.
Dix is not so naive as to present the boys’ music as an easy pathway to comfort and prosperity. But the talented crew clearly gain some sort of clarity from their experiments in rap and urban folk. Willa turns out to have an impressive raw-boned voice and a gift for writing stripped-down soul numbers.
Few recent Irish documentaries have been quite so beautifully made. Filmed almost entirely in crisp black and white, Broken Song occasionally breaks into hazy colour as it acknowledges the dream life opened up by its heroes’ experiments in sound. There’s never been anything quite like it.