Thursday, February 25, 2010

Film Documents Oakland Hip-Hop Therapy Program

By Kathleen Richards
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Several years ago, local filmmaker Kerri Gawryn made a short documentary film about a workshop that taught formerly homeless women how to use black-and-white 35mm photography to express their experiences. For her next project, Gawryn decided she wanted to do something similar, but in a longer format and focusing on youth. In her research, she came across the program Beats, Rhymes & Life, a hip-hop therapy program based out of Oakland High School. It turned out to be a perfect match.

The five-year-old program “strives to address the psychosocial needs of youth of color in a manner that build upon their strengths, embraces their cultural expressions and empowers them to become agents of change and advocates in their community and beyond.” Meeting every Friday afternoon for three hours, the group of nine students ranging in age from fifteen to nineteen became the focus of Gawryn’s as-yet-untitled feature-length documentary. “It’s really challenging them to approach their music in a different way,” said Gawryn. Instead of “writing mainstream stuff you hear on the radio,” she continued, “the program gets them to reflect on their life.”

Filmed during the first half of last year, the doc captures the workshop's weekly meetings, rehearsals, recording sessions at the school’s in-house studio, and culminates in a performance at the Oakland Metro Operahouse. The goal, Gawryn said, was to “to show the potential that young people have if they’re given access to these kinds of resources and how they can really thrive if they’re given access to art and to mentoring....” Beyond that, it also addresses how the youth view Oakland, as well as how outsiders view the city.

The challenge now is completing and editing the film. And to do that, Gawryn needs money. Jeff Marcello, editor of famed documentary Planet B-Boy, has signed on to edit the film, but needs to move from New York to Oakland. Gawryn has a $10,000 challenge grant from the East Bay Community Foundation, but needs to raise the same amount in order to get the funds by March 13. (She has raised about $3,000 so far, and needs another $7,000.) To accomplish this, Gawryn is throwing a fund-raiser at the New Parish on Friday, March 12. “For the Love: A Hip Hop Soiree” will feature a buffet-style dinner and speakers such as Councilwoman Pat Kernighan and A-Plus of Hieroglyphics. Youth from the film will be performing, and a fifteen-minute clip will also be shown. Following that, an after-party will feature DJs and performances. The event starts at 7 p.m. $50 includes the dinner and after-party; $8 pre-sale for just the after-party, or $10 at the door. The pre-sale ends March 10. Click here to donate, or here to buy tickets. There will also be a golf tournament in Cupertino on Sunday, Feb. 28. For more details, go here.

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