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Bronx 79. I remember it well. Diana Vreeland once said something to the effect of the first five years of your life influence your sensibility and your taste because the world makes a powerful impression on your soul. It is those early years, when you are just navigating the world, that time and place are one and the same. This is style, in the truest sense of the word. Who What Where When Why & How? That’s what it’s all about.

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Bronx 79, that’s where Peter Mishara comes in, with a trailer of the same name that you can view HERE. It takes us back into time, to a world so long ago that all that remains are the photographs, the footage, and the people who lived to tell.

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Miss Rosen: What was the inspiration for Bronx 79 ? What made you decide to develop a documentary film to explore this place in time ? What are some of the ideas and themes that you are exploring in the film ?

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Peter Mishara: Quite simply, Bronx 79 grew out of a lifelong love of the music and the culture. Hip-hop has been some part of my life from a very young age and something that has grown with me as I have and has connected me to people and places and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The interest to me was twofold – one, I was born in NYC in 1976 and I’ve always grappled with the sense of nostalgia that I have for that era, not of my own specific memories but more of a time and place that is no longer. And two, even when I was a young kid listening to EMPD and Slick Rick and the like I still was curious to the origins of the culture – who were these cats that came before? So stuff like Crash Crew and Flash were getting a lot of play in my Walkman. My first screenplay that I ever wrote was a short film based on a Masta Ace story (with his blessing of course) that appeared in a 1993 issue of the Source called “Sleeping Snakes” which was about graffiti writers in the early 80s. In ’98 I turned it into my senior thesis at Temple University when I went there for undergrad (a trailer is HERE). In any event, my desire to accurately portray this era on film has been with me a long while.

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This is the main idea that I want to explore – you’ve got a culture that was effectively on its own for almost 6 years, from ’73 to ’79, with its own constellation of stars, artists all within a 50 block or so radius. In today’s hyperconnected world, that’s an impossibility – that shit would be on Twitter tomorrow and by the end of the week be played out, but again we’re talking 6 years here – crazy, and not to mention set against the backdrop of one of the single greatest collapses of urban infrastructure in the modern history of the world. Its become cliché to say nowadays, but people forget how much NYC was in freefall at the time and there was serious consideration that it might not ever recover. All that to say that these kids were not expected to make any contribution to larger society, quite the opposite, they were in many ways abandoned and forgotten. Instead of being forgotten however, they laid the foundation to the greatest youth movement of the past 40 years. So they’ve got six years to cook the culture, let it percolate and establish rules and style. Then boom, this one 12” comes out – Rappers Delight – and changes everything. Literally, its BRD and ARD in hip-hop history – what does that mean to the constellation of stars and fans? Its almost like the introduction of sound in film, you’ve got some talent that’s able to make the switch, but a lot aren’t able to, and just like silent film, you’ve got a lot of those amazing pieces of art that are lost to time. That’s what compels me about this and what I want to explore in Bronx 79.

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Who are the subjects who will be featured in the film ? What made you select them ? What expertise does each of them bring to the story?

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In this proof-of-concept trailer, you’ve got 3 people interviewed – two people that were there at the beginnings, DJ Disco Wiz and Joe Conzo and a journalist, Jeff Chang to help give a little context. All three were incredible talents and I was lucky (with the help of a certain Miss Rosen) to get them on screen. Wiz wrote the amazing memoir It’s Just Begun (which served as inspiration for the main music choice of the trailer), and one of the things that’s fascinating about him is that during “BRD” he went upstate to do a bid and he missed the actual shift that the culture experienced, so that the change for him when he got back home was far more palatable. Joe is an incredible dude, just a kid when he took these pictures that would be some of the only records of this era and talking to him you can still see that same guy in there somewhere. The way he talks about that time you just feel like that you’re there with him. And Jeff was fantastic just in terms of his research and his knowledge of this specific time and place. I was very lucky to interview them as the basis for this trailer.

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I do have a rather extensive wish-list of people that I’d love to get on film. Of course the “holy trinity” of Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash. You’ve got musicians such as Grandmaster Caz, The Furious Five, Charlie Chase, Kurtis Blow, Sha Rock, Buzy Bee Starski, Melle Mel, the list goes on and definitely talk to the cats that were on the front lines of this seismic shift – the Sugarhill Gang (RIP Big Hank Bank). If I could be quite honest, my biggest issue with the proof-of-concept trailer as it is, is that it doesn’t include any b-boying or graff, this is not an oversight, just a factor of production limitations. So that being said, b-boys such as Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Jimmy D, Lenny Len, Chino “Action” Lopez, Popmaster Fabel, etc. And graff artists Lee, Lady Pink, Futura, Zephyr, T-Kid, Seen, Phase II just to name a very few. As a side note, its pretty interesting that what is considered the core “pillars” of hip-hop started out separately from one another and became inextricably linked in hindsight, but this is an element that would be worth exploring more. And finally, I’d like to interview people from that time that aren’t “names” but were avid fans of the scene. Jeff Chang has a great passage in his book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop with Cindy Campbell, sister of Kool Herc, whose desire for a new wardrobe for going back to school was the impetus for what is widely considered the first hip-hop jam in 1973. I’d love to interview people such as her to get a completely different perspective on what that world was actually like.

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I love the original footage and photographs included in the film. What were some of the challenges in sourcing authentic materials from the era ?

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The challenge is that there isn’t any! Well, that might be going a bit far, but the reality is that actual archival footage from that time is very few and very far between. First and foremost, Joe Conzo allowing me to use his photographs was huge – they are pretty much the only document from that era that directly shows that scene. The other first degree archival footage exists as personal photographs and in rare instances Super 8mm film, all of which I’d love to feature.

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The other main resource is either a handful of narrative films and a few documentaries. The internet obviously is a great resource in terms of listing the films, but almost anything online is horrible quality. I strove for highest quality as possible, and I’ve been collecting DVDs for the past decade or so to pull from. What is exciting is that these movies, such as Fort Apache, the Bronx and Wolfen were shot on film and could be potentially uprezzed to HD, a possibility which is completely dependent on availability and cost. There’s a great blog run by filmmaker Jonathan Hertzberg (http://knifeinthehead.blogspot.ca/) where he creates these supercuts of what he terms “Dirty Old New York” which was an invaluable resource.

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The challenge is a great one to have and forces you to find new ways to show what it was actually like then. In an ideal world, I’d like to bring to life some of these stories either through animation (Vaughn Bode and particularly Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin are huge influences) or through live-action recreations. Both techniques should feel like a modern interpretation of era specific styles, meaning they should feel like a time capsule of the ’70s.

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What are your plans for developing a longer length film?

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Great question. On one hand, the proof-of-concept trailer were some ideas that I’ve had in my head for a long time and eventually I just wanted to get them out in the world. From that perspective, the experience has been invaluable in terms of allowing me to focus on what works and what doesn’t. For me, it comes down to storytelling – people that were there and lived it and through their stories are able to take you back to that time. There tends to be a romanticizing of what New York was like back then which doesn’t interest me. That’s why I started the trailer with Wiz’s great quote, “This wasn’t like no love pow-wow, this was the streets.” So basically I want to hear more of these stories, get them on film and take it from there.

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