(Documentary Feature, 2006, Premiere TRIBECA)
Personifying the fierce independence and do-it-yourself spirit of the Hip Hop movement, festival producer Chang Weisberg puts everything on the line for his impossible dream of reuniting notorious no-shows The Wu-Tang Clan.
In July 2004, concert promoter Chang Weisberg organized a hip-hop festival in San Bernardino, California, headlined by the reunited Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary supergroup infamous for its no-shows on tour. The RZA, the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man, plus unofficial member Cappadonna: It was a gathering of the gods, nearly as inconceivable as a set by the Beatles, including the dead ones. Corralling every member of this supremely unreliable crew onto the same stage at the same time was challenge enough; nailing down Big Baby Jesus qualified as a superhuman achievement even before the notoriously unpredictable MC holed up in his hotel room, immobilized on crack.
Whether Ol’ Dirty can get his shizat together long enough to rock the mic (or just stand up without help) is the least of Weisberg’s problems in Rock the Bells, an electrifying, occasionally terrifying documentary by filmmakers Denis Henry Hennelly and Casey Suchan. Condensed from 200 hours of fly-on-the-wall footage, it follows the event from (naive) planning to (inadequate) preparation, to (sloppy) execution, to imminent disaster as thousands of frustrated Wu fans threaten to riot. Think Dave Chappelle’s Block Party booked on United 93.
Kicking off with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of nuts-and-bolts concert promotion, Rock the Bells(co-produced by Weisberg) initially appears to be of little interest to anyone but hip-hop nerds seeking dope organizational strategies. Hang the posters like that, yo! On the legal tip, Weisberg dons his best XXXL T-shirt to reassure the authorities that a large gathering of hip-hop fans does not necessarily entail obscene quantities of weed. There’s a charming mom-and-pop quality to his company, Guerilla Union, whose staff consists of a feverishly multitasking honey named Carla Garcia and a bug-eyed stress case named Brian Valdez. They’ve got passion out the ass, which is super-nice for them, and a lot of phone calls to make, which is rather dull for us. Talking-head interviews with select Wu keep the momentum going, as Rock the Bells heads toward the big day—and into the pantheon of classic concert docs.
Nathan Lee, THE VILLAGE VOICE
A Gather Films / September Club Production
Editorial / Story Consultant: Barry Poltermann