‘Bomb It’ looks at all sides of graffiti issue

Wednesday, April 23rd 2008, 1:52 AM

Jon Reiss‘ latest documentary, “Bomb It,” explores the controversial subculture of graffiti through themes of public space, freedom of speech, corporate advertising, and social and political issues. The film visits cities from around the world – Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Barcelona, Cape Town, Sao Pãulo and Tokyo – and delves into how writers have incorporated graffiti into each of their varying cultures as a means of expression, protest, and beautification.

Around 200 graffiti artists were interviewed for the documentary, including prominent names such as Cornbread, Taki 183, Terrible T-Kid 170, Os Gemeos, Blek Le Rat, Faith 47, Zypher, Revok, 2ESAE, and many more. Reiss also spoke with people who opposed graffiti including government officials from around the globe, anti-graffiti groups like T.A.G. (Totally Against Graffiti), and even New York’s own City Councilman Peter Vallone. The film brings both views to the fore, presenting a comprehensive look at how graffiti is viewed throughout the world and revealing the depths of graffiti culture.

“We made [“Bomb It”] so that it would appeal to all people not just people interested in graffiti and street art,” says Reiss. The film succeeds in this mission by presenting a riveting narrative with a mix of global music, striking interviews, amusing animated segments and stunning artwork.

Award Winning director Jon Reiss discuses his explosive new documentary and what to expect with the May DVD release.

Daily News: What inspired you to create this film?

Jon Reiss: I was approached in Los Angeles to write a narrative, like a regular feature film about graffiti writers. Even though it was kind of interesting to me, I realized I didn’t know enough about graffiti to write a script for a Hollywood studio without doing some research. When I made a film called “Better Living Through Circuitry,” I became friends with some people I met and one of them, who was a DJ, said, “Oh, I’m a writer, I know lots of writers”.

In terms of graffiti writers, most of them don’t consider themselves artists, they call themselves writers, it depends on who you’re talking to. She introduced me to a couple of people and that was when I interviewed my first “old school” guy, [Sharp], who had amazing depth and understanding of not only graffiti, but also its relationship to society and its relationship to history. Then I also met an up and coming writer, 2ESAE, they’re both in the film. Between those two guys I was kind of hooked. Usually when I find a culture or a subculture that has so much more depth to it than most people are aware of, to me, that’s a pretty interesting story to tell.

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As an outsider, how did you figure out who to interview and where to film in the cities you visited around the world.

We actually did quite a lot of research. The research that we did; looking at established sources on the web, and then, very early on, we connected with the L.A. graffiti scene, because we’re from L.A. and met some really helpful people and a couple of other places and very early on we met Terrible T Kid. Basically everyone we met knew my other work, or could see where I was coming from. They were very generous; introducing me to other people and advising us, in a sense. But we would keep that advice and filtered it because, in the graffiti scene, there’s a lot of conflicting stories as far as who is what and where. Some of it was research in terms of conventional research, some of it was research we did during the process of making the film and then some of it was just finding and looking at work that inspired us.

While you were doing your initial research, how did the graffiti writers respond to the film and the idea behind it?

I think they responded really favorably because very early on we discovered that the broader issue of who controls visual public space came up in this fourth or fifth interview that we did. The interviews with Stefano Bloch, who’s a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, and Susan Phillips who teaches at Spitzer College expanded graffiti into a societal and historical issue. This is an issue that has been going on for thousands of years. People have always written on walls and it’s a basic form of free speech.

That issue came up very early on in the interviews and kind of anchored the film throughout. Because of the kind of questions I asked, I constantly was getting feedback from graffiti writers that no one had ever talked to them about these issues before. I think they were very appreciative that this side of the story was going to finally come out.

In your film you give those who oppose graffiti an equal chance to explain their point-of-view.

Yeah, that was important for us. I personally support graffiti, and I support freedom of speech, but I think it’s wrong when people tag on people’s private property. To be perfectly honest most graffiti writers think that that’s wrong too. We really wanted to speak to everyone. We wanted to use this as a dialogue or as a way to start dialogue about issues of public space. You just can’t do that by being only one-sided. I do see both sides, I understand why people are upset.

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How did those opposed to graffiti react when you approached them to be interviewed for your film?

Well, they wanted to state their case, they were very open. It was hard to get to [Mayor Bloomberg], but we talked to the head police chief in charge of Quality of Life in New York. We talked to Vallone, we talked to [Valerie Hil] from Totally Against Graffiti (T.A.G.) – they were all very eager to tell their side of the story. We talked to several officials pretty much all over the world. We couldn’t get any officials to talk to us in Japan, that was the only place that wouldn’t talk to us. So other than that, everyone was very forthcoming, and I think the openness of their interviews are reflected in the film.

How have the graffiti writers you interviewed responded to your film?

They all love it as well. So far I haven’t received a single negative response, I just get constant positive feedback from writers. I think that they’ve never seen a film like this before, certainly never seen a graffiti film like this before. We’ve screened it in about 20 festivals so far. We’re starting to screen in San Francisco. All the feedback has just been positive. I haven’t so far received any negative feedback, frankly, from either side.

Along with the DVD release in May, what else can we expect in the future from “Bomb It”?

I have two editors cutting the Japanese-only DVD and another cutting the Sao Pãulo DVD. “Bomb It” itself moved so fast and you get a taste of everything across the world, but that’s 1 1/2 hours out of the 400 hours of footage we shot. Early on we decided we would release DVDs once a year. You can see more people we interviewed (around 200 artists). Only about 50 of them made it into “Bomb It.” A lot of those people are very interesting and, for one reason or another, they didn’t make it into the final cut. Eventually, we’ll be doing a New York City, Philadelphia, L.A., San Francisco, Europe and South Africa DVD, that’s the plan.

Once people come to our website and join our email list or purchase any of our merchandise, they’ll find out when the subsequent DVDs will be available. The other thing about our website is that have a blog that is very active. It isn’t just information about our film, but it’s also information about graffiti events and graffiti culture from around the world. So if you’re interested in that, you can RSS our blog and receive updates about the film and about graffiti around the world. We also have a Flickr site where people upload images from around the world and you can see additional photos and not just photos we took, but user-generated photos as well.

Any concluding thoughts?

I think this film is particularly important for New York City at this time, because there’s such strong enforcement against graffiti. I think there’s a strong relationship between that and the gentrification that’s going on in the city. There needs to be a balance between the corporatization of New York City in terms of gentrification and in terms of the art and culture that New York City is known for. I think that the issues we talk about in the film are very essential to what’s going on in New York City and what is happening to New Yorkers now.

“Bomb It” opens in New York on Friday, April 25 and will be screened at the Cinema Village theater on E. 12th Street and will run through May 8. Jon Reiss will be on hand for the opening night and will be introducing his film and will be conducting a Q&A. Attendees of the April 25th screenings will be invited to a free after party sponsored by AriZona and Bombin’ Magazine at “The Plumm,” located at 246 W. 14th Street.

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