Films at Berklee Highlight Hip-Hop and Global Music

Mitzi Dorbu
July 23, 2008
This Is the Life
Playing for Change
Photo provided by the artist
Photo provided by the artist

What do you get when you mix the college known the world over for contemporary music with the film festival known locally and nationally for its celebration of people of color and its legacy of community development and empowerment? Powerful cinema of global import that weaves the stories of people from South Central Los Angeles, New Orleans, South Africa, Tibet and beyond with their musical mantras. For the first time in the Roxbury Film Festival's 10-year history, public film screenings will be held at Berklee College of Music as part of the festival.

The college's sponsorship of the festival includes two screenings on August 1.


Friday, August 1, David Friend Recital Hall, 921 Boylston Street, $8, 5:30 p.m.

This Is the Life is about a collective of young artists who gathered at a nondescript health food store in gang-infested South Central Los Angeles. Despite their environment, they made it their mandate to explore the musical boundaries of hip-hop and reject gangster rap. This Is the Life chronicles the rise and fall of this "family" of African-American street poets, while examining their obstacles to commercial success. They all took different paths but remain connected by the music they made, the alternative hip-hop movement they developed, and their worldwide influence on the art form. True hip-hop heads will recognize the names of respected underground West Coast artists like Mykah Nyne, Medusa, Freestyle Fellowship, Cut Chemist, and more, who all emerged from this community.

Q&A immediately following with Essence magazine news editor Cynthia Gordy.


Friday, August 1, David Friend Recital Hall, 921 Boylston Street, $8, 8:30 p.m.

Playing for Change is about filmmakers and music lovers Mark Johnson and Jonathan Wall's quest to demonstrate that music has the power to change the world and inspire peace. Their search started on the Santa Monica Pier with an unknown, noncommercial, genuine blues man that so impressed them with his soul that they recorded him playing for change right on the boardwalk. They took out his vocals and invited musicians around the world to sing along. That journey took them to South Africa and the struggle of apartheid, India and Nepal and the injustices in Tibet, the United States with one of the oldest Native American tribes in the country, and New Orleans and the legacy of music post-Katrina. The audience connects to each place via stellar musicians from the Congo, Tel Aviv, Zimbabwe, and more singing to the vocal-less track. Music lovers of all types will appreciate the guest appearances from well-known Spaniard Manu Chao, bluesman Keb' Mo', renowned artist Vusi Mahlasela from South Africa, and others. The power of the film does not stop there, because the filmmakers created a foundation in conjunction with the documentary to build centers and music schools in many of the places featured in the piece.

Essence news editor Cynthia Gordy will be in Boston to present the winners of the 2008 Berklee/Essence Take Back the Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest at the Peace Hip-Hop Festival, City Hall Plaza, Saturday, August 2. In addition to leading the Q&A after This Is the Life, Gordy will do the same after Welcome to the Terrordome by local filmmaker Robert Patton-Spruill, about rap group Public Enemy and their impact on the music world due to the serious messages of activism and societal ills woven into their music. That film will show at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, August 1, at the Tower Auditorium at Mass College of Art.

The Roxbury Film Festival is produced by ACT and the Color of Film Collaborative.

Arts, Culture & Trade - Roxbury (ACT) is the cultural economic development program of Madison Park Development Corporation. ACT uses the arts and cultural resources of Roxbury as vehicles for economic development. To find out more about ACT Roxbury, visit

Color of Film Collaborativeis a nonprofit organization that works to support media makers of color and others who have an interest in creating and developing new and diverse images of people of color in film, video, and performing arts. For more information about The Color of Film Collaborative, contact or visit