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Word.Life (AKA The Hip Hop Project)

World Premiere

USA | 88 MINUTES | English |


Documentary, Music
From executive producer Bruce Willis, Word.Life is the dynamic and inspirational story about at-risk New York City teenagers who set out to make an album as part of the Hip Hop Project, the brainchild of Bahamian-born Chris “Kharma Kazi” Rolles. After getting through a difficult childhood and attempting to become a hip hop star, Rolles decided it was time to give back—through the Art Start organization that all but saved him when he himself was a teen on the streets of Crown Heights. Rolles initiated the Hip Hop Project not just as a way to pull kids in off the streets but to help them develop the confidence and self-respect to get on the right path by taking them through the recording process. But when it came time to actually cut the album the songs needed to be more than a hot sound with a good beat. They needed to have lyrics about what was happening in the kids’ lives—not the standard fantasies of “money, bling, and the ladies.” The result was more than just great music. This collaborative and creative outlet produced a sense of empowerment for the students, and it may have even saved some lives by channeling anger into artistic expression. Even though the film focuses on the kids, its heart and soul is Rolles, who relishes the process as much as his youthful collaborators. Codirectors Matt Ruskin and Scott Rosenberg (who founded Art Start) have skillfully photographed and edited a story of hope, healing, and the realization of dreams.


Directed by Ishai Setton, Matt Ruskin, and Scott Rosenberg

While at NYU Scott Rosenberg won the prestigious Fuji Film Award. He is the creator and director of Media Works Project, a filmmaking and media literary program for New York City high school students. In 1991, Rosenberg founded Art Start, which helps homeless kids transform their lives through the creative process. The non-profit organization has received national recognition, winning the President's Service Award in 1997 and featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000. As director, producer and editor, Matt Ruskin has devoted nearly four years to Word.Life. Ruskin graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in filmmaking in 2001. While studying under filmmaker George Stoney, he produced and directed the award-winning documentary The Glen of the Downs, about an environmental protest in Ireland. He also worked with director Darren Aronofsky during the planning and production of Requiem for a Dream.