The crowd at the screening of the award-winning documentary The Hip Hop Project at the Cinematheque Friday night was not unusual for the weekend, a packed house and a line out the door. The mostly older and white audience was certainly unusual, though, for anything in Madison related to hip hop.
The documentary charts the beginnings of the afterschool program at a New York alternative high school begun by Christopher Kazi Rolle. From there, it follows the lives of a few key students and "graduates" of the project, as they transform themselves into artists in their own right.
The Hip Hop Project follows its subjects closely. The group struggles to find their own voice, fighting off the cultural appropriation of hip hop, and are encouraged by high-profile elders of the culture like Russell Simmons, and Doug E. Fresh.
More a coming-of-age story than anything else, the extremely charismatic Rolle grows up on film as much as the struggling teenagers he mentors at the project.
Catching the moment that Rolle, abandoned and orphaned as a toddler, touches his biological mother's hand for the first time in his life, it approaches voyeurism at times, but never once does it take on reality TV-like qualities. The documentary translates the inspiration that hip hop brings to people the world over, even to the audience at the Cinematheque.