Directed by Jon Reiss
Running Time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (full frame) / Dolby E
Country of Origin: USA
Original Production Format: Digital Video 24P DV
Original Languages: English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish
with English subtitles
Please direct press inquiries to:
Lynn Hasty at Green Galactic
A Flying Cow production in association with Antidote Films, Inc.
A film by Jon Reiss
ARNEL SAN PEDRO
Director of Photography
JON GUTMAN & MATT CLAUSON
Samir Arghandiwall & James Jaculina
Music Composed by
Artist & Main Title Design by:
“Graffiti belongs to everyone and no one. On a section of a condemned wall, I put up a graffito. . . (A) bank director stopped the construction work, had my carving cut out as a fresco and inlayed it in the wall of his apartment.”
– Pablo Picasso
BOMB IT is an explosive new documentary from award-winning director Jon Reiss (BETTER LIVING THROUGH CIRCUITRY) which explores the most subversive and controversial art form currently shaping international youth culture: graffiti.
While some believe graffiti is as old as the innate human need for communication and self expression and may even predate language, graffiti remains a highly controversial issue and raises important questions about our contemporary social structure: Who has the right to express themselves? What is a canvas? Where should art take place? Who decides how public space is used? If public space is a forum for discussion, which voices are allowed to be heard?
Today we are as likely to encounter graffiti-influenced art in the Smithsonian as we are on an urban bus ride. How did this radical street art evolve into the ultimate signifier of urban cool, co-opted by corporations from MTV to Nike to Nissan? BOMB IT explores how graffiti has developed worldwide to encompass stenciling, postering, and any unsanctioned graphic “interference” in public space.
Using myriad original interviews from around the world and guerilla footage of graffiti writers in action, BOMB IT tells the story of graffiti from its origins in prehistoric cave paintings through ancient Rome and more recent Latino placas to its notorious emergence as a visual adjunct to the rise of hip hop culture in New York in the 1970s, culminating in its current complex variations around the planet.
The most comprehensive documentary on graffiti to date, BOMB IT is the first film to explore the movement from a truly global perspective, examining how artists around the world have taken the medium and applied it to their particular cultural and social conditions, from its modern birthplace in the slums of Philadelphia and New York City to Europe, where a dadaist/surrealist tradition produces deliberately confrontational prankstering, to Brazil, where graffiti traces its roots to the anti-fascist pichaçao writings of the 1960s and 1970s, to Japan, where anime-inspired graffiti challenges conformist societal norms, and back to Los Angeles, where graffiti has been strongly influenced by Chicano and gang culture.
The controversy surrounding graffiti is an integral part of the story: from anti-tagging groups to the impact of New York’s infamous “Quality of Life” laws which directly targeted illicit writing, to the burgeoning resistance confronting the global proliferation of laws intended to stop graffiti. BOMB IT also explores how graffiti writers vary in their attitudes toward the art world’s embrace of graffiti as evidenced in gallery shows and commissioned work and examines the effect “sanctioned” writing has had on a form known for its guerilla tactics and essentially subversive nature.
Graffiti, postering, stenciling, and stickering form a fascinating and radical movement that defies definition except as a voice demanding to be heard. Born out of urban blight, graffiti’s tough mimetic code consistently defies the forces that try to stop it and thrives today in varied and artistically sophisticated forms around the world. BOMB IT brings this exciting global phenomenon to the screen.
“A high wall throws down a challenge. Protecting property, defending order, it is a target for protest and insult, as well as for demands of every sexual, political or social passion.”
A Conversation with Director Jon Reiss
In the early interviews for BOMB IT, I was immediately struck by the myriad issues and contradictions brought about by this movement of outsider art. An old-school New York graffiti writer from the early 1980s, Sharp, encouraged me to pursue the documentary because while many movies had been made about graffiti over the years, no one had pursued it as a global movement.
I was also struck by the notion that humankind has been compelled to write on walls for thousands of years. The very act itself addresses the eternal human quest for some form of immortality in the face of a vast universe – some universal desire to state “I was here” – which I feel drives a good deal of human creation, not just graffiti.
The same weekend I interviewed Sharp, a young writer, 2EASE, took me out on my first bombing raid which immediately reminded me of my days with Survival Research Laboratories when we would “liberate” industrial equipment to create fantastic anthropomorphic robots for street theater.
It was important for me, however infatuated that I had become with the movement, to showcase as many sides to the story of graffiti as possible. That meant to represent this more hard-core side of the culture while also representing those who find graffiti offensive and are fighting to keep it in check. We went to great efforts to connect with government officials and police in every city we went to.
I was also amazed by the differences that we found between cities and their approach to street art. While on the surface much of the world seems overwhelmed by the New York City “wild style” we found that there is not only a great range of styles that varies from city to city but also a different approach and attitude about graffiti. This is particularly exemplified by the writers in South Africa who point out that for them graffiti is a luxury sport. Paint is expensive and only those who no longer need to worry about food and shelter can afford it.
ON MAKING A FILM ON FIVE CONTINENTS WITH NO MONEY
This film would not have been possible without the Internet in more than a few key ways. Obviously it helped us in contacting artists and receiving images from all over the world but more importantly in assembling a worldwide crew that for the most part worked for free. Craig’s List and Mandy.com were essential to connecting me with the up and coming filmmakers who made BOMB IT happen.
The most important instance of this was when I posted for a researcher to jump start the project. I received the resume of Tracy Wares who was especially interested in the global nature of the project – she loves to travel, was used to traveling under severe budgetary restrictions, loves street art, and is very political.
It was a perfect match and Tracy quickly rose from researcher to associate producer to producer in a matter of months. What quickly became even more crucial to the project was the discovery that Tracy was a camera person – what could be more perfect than a producer/DP? With me directing, recording sound, and gaffing, we could travel the world as a two-person crew – an essential plan since we had no money.
In fact we had so little money at first that we were intending to go to Europe as part of a family vacation organized by my wife. In retrospect this would have been an unmitigated disaster. On all of our trips we easily shot from 10am to midnight every day, and my kids (7 & 10 years old) certainly would have been pissed!
But then the London bombings occurred and my wife was NOT taking our children to Europe. Just in time, we received a small grant from the Annenberg Foundation, which financed our five-week trip to Europe (London, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin) and Cape Town, South Africa. By the end of August ‘05 we had filmed three of the five continents we targeted. We anguished over excluding Australia but we had to choose between Africa and Australia and the Aussies lost. We felt that Africa had a unique set of cultural and socio-historical influences that had yet to receive exposure for their contribution to graffiti.
Another key component for making the film was that I teach film at Loyola Marymount University and Cal Arts. LMU provided my production equipment and insurance for New York and Europe/South Africa. Cal Arts did the same for Sao Paulo, Tokyo, and the rest of Los Angeles and our return trip to New York. Just as important, much of my support crew (several associate producers, lead assistant editors, animators, etc.) came from a roster of both current and former students.
ON FILMING FELONS
One of the biggest challenges in making this film was to convince people who are essentially criminals to not only allow you to film them talking about their crimes on camera but also to let you film them in the act of committing those crimes, most of which are now classified as felonies.
One time when I walked into one of the TKO “yards” even though we had already spoken to the head of the TKO crew the writers on the scene were convinced that I was a cop. Even as I left they wanted to look at my photos and make sure that they weren’t incriminating.
In Berlin, after breaking into an apartment building, we spent hours on the roof with the CBK crew waiting for the undercover police (who were theoretically on the street) to disperse. This was after the passage of the new anti-graffiti law making graffiti punishable by prison sentences of three years. The most fun was had in Sheffield, England. After we had gone into an abandoned gas station that had been taken over as a squat we suddenly heard the classic “come out with your hands up” over a police loudspeaker. Since our rental car had London plates and we had been observed going into the squat (remember the London bombings had occurred the week before), we were suspected of being terrorists. Fortunately when they discovered we were merely American tourists they let us go after searching our Interpol records.
We would not have been able to make this movie without the trust that we developed with graffiti writers over the course of the project. Writers are extremely suspicious of how their culture has been portrayed in the media by outsiders. Similar to making my film BETTER LIVING THROUGH CIRCUITRY about another quasi-legal subculture (raves), penetrating the inner core of the scene took time, patience, and vital referrals from the people who initially allowed us to interview them. Only at the very end of filming when we interviewed Revok, Skuf and KET crew did we feel that we had finally penetrated the inner core of the international graffiti scene. To get that far we had to gain the trust of hundreds of other writers who had started a chain of recommendations from one to the next.
ON ADVENTURES DURING PRODUCTION AROUND THE GLOBE
Some of the highlights of our travels around the world were meeting the legendary Cornbread and Taki 183, two of the acknowledged founders of the movement. We found Cornbread still living in Germantown, the extremely poor section of Philadelphia where he grew up. In fact this turned out to be one of the most blighted slums we visited anywhere in the world.
We found Taki 183, who had not granted an interview in over 30 years, at his current day job as an auto shop worker in Yonkers, New York.
London was brutal. Our car was booted within 5 minutes of arriving at our hotel. We lost a day of shooting because the rental car had no signs that it was diesel not petrol. Traveling from one side of London to the other took hours. And on the last day my computer was stolen. We were extremely happy to land in Amsterdam where everything returned to “normal”.
Toward the end of our short stay in Paris, we finally connected with Blek le Rat – who apologized that he couldn’t meet us in Paris but invited us to “his” castle 400 miles away. So we bit the bullet, bought TGV tickets, and met Blek at the train station. I was taken aback by this affable bourgeois person – who reminded me of myself. His artistic endeavors were born out of the punk rock movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s and he has been an iconoclast ever since. The castle was not his, but he had artistically squatted it twenty years prior. The countess who owned it had long abandoned it, believing it was haunted by her late husband.
We fortunately hooked up with Faith 47 from Cape Town relatively early on: she not only invited us down to Cape Town and offered to be our driver but also set up a huge “jam”-in where she invited every major writer not just from Cape Town but from all over South Africa.
What was amazing about South Africa was to learn that although apartheid does not exist as a political structure anymore, it still exists as an economic structure. As interesting to me was discovering that it was the “colored” or mixed-race people in South Africa who for both economic and cultural reasons had adopted graffiti and hip hop, not the predominantly “black” population. Colored people in South Africa are stuck between two cultures without full acceptance from either.
One of the unexpected jewels of our travels was Zezao, who graciously brought us down into the sewers of Sao Paulo where he paints. The only thing he asked in return was for us to give him the full body protective suits that we needed to buy in order to accompany him into the sewers. I’ve been in some pretty nasty places in my documentary career but even I had second thoughts as to whether I was really needed down there. I considered sending Tracy down with Zezao on her own! I could just see telling my wife that I was in a Sao Paulo hospital for three weeks because I had stepped on a nail in the sewers (as had happened to Zezao). But ultimately I realized that tromping through other people’s sewage was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, and that if I wasn’t prepared to do that for my film, what was I prepared to do!
The next monumental task in making this film was coming to terms with the 400 hours of footage that we had acquired. It was such a daunting task that our first editor froze at the sheer size of it. I quickly realized that no one editor would be able to wade through all of our material on his or her own.
I devised a plan where a team of associate editors (a combination of former students and up-and-comers culled from the Internet who hadn’t cut a feature yet) would cut individual sequences. It was an arduous process coordinated by Kate Christensen – another Internet find who had also signed on as a researcher and risen to Associate Producer then Co-Producer then Producer in a matter of months.
The process entailed getting each interview transcribed or translated (we had over 100 hours of footage in five foreign languages). We would also burn audio CDs of the interviews so I could listen to them in the car as I drove the two hour round trip to Cal Arts three times a week. After hearing an interview I would take the transcript and make a paper cut of the segment. I would then hand this over with the footage on a trans-drive so the associate editor could take the footage home to cut. They would then bring in their roughs and I would give them notes and off they would go to re-cut.
At the height of this process we had ten associates all cutting simultaneously supported by four assistants and 12 transcriber/translators. We kept track of these ten associates and 300 interviews on a large grid on one of our walls so we could see at a glance what was holding up a particular city or continent. By August 2006 we had a four-hour-long rough assembly of the film.
All this time we kept looking for an editor who would take the assembly and work with me to cut it down to a lean, 90-minute machine. We found Alex Marquez who had cut COMANDANTE, LOOKING FOR FIDEL, and ALEXANDER for Oliver Stone in addition to THE NIGHT BUFFALO written and produced by Guillermo Arriaga. Alex worked so fast and we had such an incredible synergy that we were able to cut the film down to 110 minutes in a month. We cut another 20 minutes out of the film the second month.
The most difficult part of the editing process was to create a narrative flow out of so many disparate personalities and stories from five continents spanning a 40-year history. I was quickly reminded of how easy it is to start a documentary and how difficult it is to finish – especially when I tend to interview people for an hour to three hours. Fortunately it seemed that there was a natural interconnection between the development of various styles of modern, fame-based graffiti and its spread throughout the world. These structuring devices (stylistic, geographic, temporal) seemed to dovetail nicely into the increasing complexity of the themes raised by graffiti.
One of the most difficult tasks on this film has been cutting so many wonderful people and ideas out of the film. There is the old film cliché that you have to kill your babies in the cutting room. Well, ours became a slaughterhouse. We spent days filming some people whose work is now only represented in a flash of art going by. But from the beginning we have been committed to creating a theatrical narrative experience for the film that would appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
What made this normally excruciating process much less painful is the fact that we consider BOMBT IT the flagship of a much larger project. Those same associates who were instrumental in cutting down the 400 hours of footage have now been given the first shot at editing films that will each focus on a different continent or city or style of graffiti. New York and Europe are already being edited. Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Japan and South Africa are in progress. And there is more to come.
About the Filmmakers
JON REISS (Director/Producer)
Named one of “10 Digital Directors to Watch” by Daily Variety, Jon Reiss’ last documentary feature film was Better Living Through Circuitry, a startling, humorous, and entertaining glimpse into rave culture featuring the Crystal Method, Roni Size, and Moby, among others. The film played at such festivals as RESfest, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen, Los Angeles Independent, Seattle, Vancouver, and the Sheffield International Doc Festival before being released theatrically in the United States.
Reiss’ first film, Cleopatra’s Second Husband, is a dark psychological drama which screened at the Los Angeles Independent, Seattle, Montreal World, Hamptons, Houston, Sao Paulo, and Bangkok film festivals, winning Best First Feature at Cinequest before its theatrical release in the United States and subsequent DVD release by First Run Features.
As an award-winning music video director, Reiss has directed videos for Nine Inch Nails, The Black Crowes, Danzig, Slayer, and the Kottonmouth Kings. Reiss’ “Happiness in Slavery” video for Nine Inch Nails won awards at the Chicago and San Francisco film festivals and was voted Top Ten by the Village Voice Critics Poll for Best Music Video. In 1995 the Toronto Film Festival curated a retrospective of Reiss’ music videos. His shorts have screened at festivals throughout the world including Sundance, Berlin, New Directors/New Films, Edinburgh, and Chicago. Reiss received his MFA from the UCLA Film School.
Reiss’ early credits include four hour-long documentaries concerning the notorious performance group Survival Research Laboratories. These documentaries have screened in festivals, theaters, and cultural centers throughout the world. All were included in the 2004 DVD compilation “10 Years of Robotic Mayhem.” Reiss got his start in filmmaking at Target Video, a San Francisco-based alternative video company where he covered much of the West Coast punk explosion.
Reiss is currently developing two feature scripts: SUCK, which takes place in the early days of San Francisco punk rock, and FROM THE ASHES, a modern mythical horror film set in New Orleans inspired by Octave Mirabeaux's "The Torture Garden".
For more information go to www.jonreiss.com.
JEFFREY LEVY-HINTE (Producer)
Jeffrey Levy-Hinte most recently produced THE LAST WINTER written and directed by Larry Fessenden and starring Ron Perlman, James LeGros and Connie Britton, as well as THE HAWK IS DYING adapted from Harry Crews’ novel and directed by Julian Goldberger and starring Paul Giamatti, Michael Pitt and Michelle Williams. THE HAWK IS DYING premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and screened in the 2006 Director’s Fortnight at Cannes.
Prior to that, Levy-Hinte produced MYSTERIOUS SKIN adapted from Scott Heim’s novel and directed by Gregg Araki and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg and Elisabeth Shue. MYSTERIOUS SKIN screened at the 2004 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals and the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It was released in the US in May 2005 to widespread critical acclaim, and nominated for IFP Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards.
Levy-Hinte’s other productions include CHAIN, a hybrid documentary-narrative feature which premiered at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival and for which director Jem Cohen was awarded the “Someone to Watch Award” at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards; and THIRTEEN directed by Catherine Hardwicke and starring Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, which screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Dramatic Directing Award. THIRTEEN received numerous award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Holly Hunter, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, Best Screenplay and First Feature nominations and won the Best Debut Performance award for Nikki Reed at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Levy-Hinte also produced LAUREL CANYON directed by Lisa Cholodenko, WENDIGO directed by Larry Fessenden, AMERICAN SAINT directed by Joseph Castello, and LIMON, a documentary directed by Malachi Roth. Prior to 2000, Levy-Hinte produced Lisa Cholodenko’s film HIGH ART and edited the Academy Award-winning documentary WHEN WE WERE KINGS. In 2003 Levy-Hinte was selected as one of Variety’s “Producers to Watch”.
Levy-Hinte is currently preparing for production on THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT written and to be directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
In addition to his film company ANTIDOTE FILMS, Levy-Hinte is the co-owner of Dig It Audio, an audio post house that provides complete sound services for video and feature film.
TRACY WARES (Producer/Director of Photography)
Tracy Wares’ passion for documentary filmmaking began while at the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Anthropology. There she created a documentary entitled Royal Drag about the drag ball community in San Francisco and an award-winning thesis film, Shakti, which explored the role of women in Hinduism inside India and issues of power and autonomy.
While working in Thailand for over two years, she collaborated with various local grassroots organizations working with Burmese refugees. Tracy trained members to use video in advocacy work and how to document human rights abuses by the military junta inside Burma. At a nonprofit video production house, Images Asia, she wrote and edited a documentary about the forced conscription of child soldiers entitled No Childhood At All: Child Soldiers in Burma. She worked with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma to produce educational videos on landmines and child development, and wrote extensively on human rights abuses against women, children, and ethnic minorities for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.
Since her arrival in Los Angeles she has been active as a director of photography. She filmed Gay Republicans, a documentary about the Log Cabin Republicans and their struggle for recognition and equal rights. It won the Audience Award at the American Film Institute’s 2004 Film Festival and was later broadcast nationally on Trio. It was also shown at film festivals in Toronto, Miami, Palm Desert, San Francisco, and Newport Beach. She also shot for “TransGeneration,” an eight-part Sundance Channel series on transgender university students. A festival-cut feature screened at the Frameline Festival in San Francisco and in Los Angeles at OutFest 2005.
While continuing to pursue her interest in social issues, Tracy directed, shot, and edited a short documentary for the non-profit Mothers’ Club of Pasadena, which benefits isolated immigrated mothers and their children through educational programs. She also shoots interviews regularly with celebrities in the music industry for the International Music Feed (IMF) and field produces and shoots for reality television programming.