This September, UMN graduate student Justin Schell returns to Ghana for a second phase of We Rock Long Distance, documenting immigrant hip-hop in the Twin Cities. His film "Travel in Spirals" screens at the Twin Cities Film Fest on September 24.
Schell co-directed and co-edited the film with Tou SaiKo Lee, one of three artists that Schell documents in We Rock Long Distance. Taking its title from the spirals in Hmong paj ntaub,"Travel in Spirals" is the emotionally powerful story of the Hmong artist's journey back to Thailand, nearly 30 years after his family fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War for the United States.
Schell's film project travels back and forth from the Twin Cities to Ghana, Puerto Rico and Thailand to learn about Twin Cities hip-hop culture. The IFP Minnesota Center for Media Arts recently selected We Rock Long Distance as a project for fiscal sponsor. The sponsorship allows supporters to make tax-deductible contributions to IFP Mediat Arts that are directed to independent arts projects. The organization provides oversight and distribution of funds, as well as support crucial for publicity and advancement of projects.
Schell considers the fiscal sponsorship an important step in ensuring the success of his documentary film project, which requires him to travel extensively after significant filming in the Twin Cities. He provided an update to IHRC about the project:
We Rock Long Distance in Ghana, Part 2
"This coming Sunday, I leave for Ghana, to continue some of the work I started on my trip with M.anifest last Fall. This trip is built around a conference for M.anifest's Grandpa, J.H. Kwabena Nketia. It will feature scholars from around the world speaking about Nketia's work, as well as presenting their research built upon Nketia's incredible intellectual foundations from nearly seven decades of work. In a fantastic irony, M.anifest will release his latest album, Coming to America: Immigrant Chronicles, while I'm in speaking at the conference in Ghana! Check out his website for more information. Lastly, if you haven't seen it already, check out the video we made for "Suffer," shot on location last year in Ghana."
We Rock Long Distance in Puerto Rico
"This summer, Maria Isa and I spent two weeks in Puerto Rico, completing the second 'leg' of We Rock Long Distance. We crisscrossed the island as she performed four times and followed the beat of bomba drums and the masks of the vejigante from San Juan to Ponce to Vega Baja to Arecibo. You can see a selection of videos from the trip over at WRLD website. I shot more than 15 hours of video over the two weeks, so keep an eye out for lots more to come! Also, Maria has teamed up with Muja Messiah as Villa Rosa, and the duo will release their debut Blue Diamond Island this coming Saturday at First Avenue."
We Rock Long Distance in Thailand
"Not quite yet, but it's happening soon. This coming December, in fact. We've laid the foundation with the documentary Travel in Spirals, which Tou SaiKo Lee and I edited from footage Tou shot in 2008 on his very first trip back to Thailand. It will screen on Saturday, September 24th at the Twin Cities Film Festival. You can find out more about the film and purchase tickets over here."
Keeping the Project Going
"The distances that make this project so powerful also post its biggest challenge. The three artists and I have done so much already on an extremely limited budget, even for an independent documentary. IFP Minnesota has seen the incredible potential and worth of this project, which is they chose to fiscally sponsor it. Please help keep this project going with a fully tax-deductible donation. Thank you for your support!"
Follow Justin's work on Twitter or friend him on Facebook to keep posted about We Rock Long Distance. He is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and has been involved with IHRC immigrant documentary projects, such as Digitizing Immigrant Letters and Minnesota 2.0.