Exploring the zen of rap

 
 

Following the release of her acclaimed documentary Broken Song, director Claire Dix speaks to Ian Mulholland about her early shorts, the Dublin rap scene and Zen poets

Broken Song was the first feature-length film from director Claire Dix. A documentary following rap and soul artists from Dublin’s north side, the film won the Discovery and Audience Awards at the 2013 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

It was during her time studying Communications at DCU that Dix discovered her interest in filmmaking. “I remember thinking I’d love to combine creative writing and photography and then I saw Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and I really loved that film. That really clicked with me, and I kind of thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to do something that creates so much atmosphere and mood’ and started looking towards film.”

After completing her MA in Sheffield Hallam University, Dix directed several award-winning music videos for independent bands. Her most notable being Days of Sleep for the band All My Friends Are Dead. Dix had 48-hours to complete the project and enjoyed the free nature of creating a visual medium for completely unsigned bands.

Dix elaborated, “I was just really lucky with the band because they kind of didn’t have a big ego at all they were like, ‘Look, do whatever you want’ kind of thing, and they said, ‘Look we just want you to respond to the music’ and the music I could really work with.”

Having worked in several music videos, Dix created Downpour, a short film again firmly focused on the visual. “Downpour, it’s a very visual piece and about mood and you know, kind of this bride remembering her relationships, all these pivotal moments happening, that happened in her relationship happened in the rain and it’s kind of about seeing rain in a new light.

“So it’s a very simple short, kind of sweet piece, but you know because there was so many setups and music it was a nice challenge, trying to tell the story almost purely visually”.

Following Downpour, Dix created Alia, a short using non-actors to depict the story of a young Afghani immigrant into Ireland. “It was another Film Board-funded short and it was about an Afghani girl, kind of like an East is East-type. Like it was very different to that, the basic was this Afghani girl who has an Irish boyfriend and just how that affects the kind of traditional family.”

Regarding the creation of documentary film rather than pure fiction, Dix sees similarities, along with benefit’s to the former. “I think the storytelling thing is the same. You’re telling a story, whether it’s real or imagined… It’s a visual medium so you’re still telling a story visually, but it’s a completely different discipline in so many other ways. It’s much more relaxed.”

Dix continues, explaining the benefits in regards day to day workings of documentary, rather than fiction. “We were filming from March to November for Broken Song, so you’ve a lot of time. If something doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. With fiction, if a scene doesn’t work you’re kind of in trouble.”

Admittedly not an expert when it comes to rap music, Dix became interested in her subjects as artists rather than simply as rappers. “I just got really interested in what they were doing; I was interested in the lyricism.

“They’re kind of outsider artists, kind of Zen poets, and I wanted to look at them as poets. I still don’t know enough about the Irish rap scene and I wouldn’t call it a film about the Irish rap scene; it’s about these poets.”

One of the most common questions Dix has been asked at screenings of Broken Song is whether she thinks it might change people’s views of young guys in hoodies from the northside.

“I didn’t set out to change anyone’s mind about anything, but yeah, it would be nice if people did say ‘oh right, you can be an artist and not be in a studio with a paintbrush, and you can be an artist and look a different way.’ It doesn’t have to be an art form that’s traditional, it can be anything, but there’s nothing revolutionary there.”

As for her next project, Dix isn’t giving much away. “I have a couple of projects I’m trying to kind of get off the ground. I’m trying to write a script at the moment for a fiction piece I’d like to do. I really liked working with a longer piece, so I would like to do something feature length again.”

Regardless of her future work, Dix can revel in her current successes, along with being at the forefront of the next generation of Irish directors.

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