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February 2006
Dave Chappelle's Block Party: An Interview with Michael Gondry

Dave Chappelle's Block Party: An Interview with Michael Gondry

By Stacey Chapman

Brooklyn is in the house! That is the NYC borough anthem and the reason why DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY uses the city as its location. The plethora of musical talent displayed in this concert film is unparallel to anything up to this date. There is Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, Bid Daddy Kane and The Fuguees. Yes, the Fuguees. Also, included are the everyday people who take us along on their most interesting journey for this one time event. Collaborating with Dave was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND director Michel Gondry, where he shares the Academy Award in the Original Screenplay category. Additionally, Gondry is also known in the music video world. He has directed videos for Kanye West, Bjork and the White Stripes. Gondry speaks with blackfilm.com about "popping off" Dave Chappelle's unbelievable Brooklyn block party.

Can you tell us how this project came to be and how you got attached to it?

Michel Gondry: Dave had this project with an amazing concept. He wanted to do the film as a celebration; however, it was not clear to me what he was celebrating. I learned that celebration could be the goal and you are celebrating celebration. It was weird for me in the beginning I am not from a culture where I need to celebrate. I am not from a community culture. To be part of that was really exciting for me, so all I am doing is worshiping the concept of celebration. They were celebrating difficulties. They were celebrating somebody's anniversary and I don't even know who that was, but they were celebrating a lot and I knew that was the goal. It's a way to be a communal towards each other.

Was it an opportunity to explore cultural experiences and neighborhoods that you never thought you would explore from this point of view?

MG: Yeah, it's great. It's (Dave's) territory I like to explore the mostŠit interests me to find out what we have in common in different cultures in different countries. It's sort of a humanistic globalization, but globalization can be good in some ways.

Was it exciting how this unfolded and changed as it went along and to see some surprise moments?

MG: It was really exciting and it taught me a lot. Documentaries have to have a point-of-view. I think it's a good point-of-view if it is to respect people of all sorts. I said to Dave, "Okay, wherever we go, we are going to capture whatever happens." It was a hard sell but that's the concept of the documentary. When I saw him in the streets of Brooklyn everyone was coming from everywhere asking for his autograph and being crazy. I went to Ohio, in the city where he lives, and people just said hello to him and they don't go crazy. The downside was that not much was happening and I was concerned. But ironically, there was some magic that happened. Dave saw these cops that looked familiar and he invited them to the concert. What he said was so weird, because he invited them to be on stage, which was not the case. We also would found the heroes in the most unexpected places, like Junior's, which is a legendary restaurant in Brooklyn. We met this waiter that sort of becomes the highest point of the movie.

Why was Brooklyn the perfect place?

MG: Well, I think it was important to me and it was one of my first contributions to the project. They initially proposed to do something in Central Park but it would not have made justice to this music and it wouldn't have meant anything to the people in upper Manhattan who don't care. Our position on a Bed-Stuy street, in this little area, people were happy, they were so welcoming to us.

I think that you made it connect with the community and made it a much larger experience.

MG: Yeah, it's true. It was by coincidence. In the daycare center we use their classes to hold the people for the concert. We didn't know Biggie Smalls was there as a kid. It was amazing to find that out.

Can you tell me what streets?

MG: It was Quincy Street and Downey Street.

How was the whole process of picking the musical participants?

MG: They knew each other and most of them performed on the (Dave Chappell) show. He is very close to The Roots, they are like family. So, they were the house band and then others came along.

It was an interesting confluence of different styles and talents. It was like one of these moments that you'll never be able to create again because of all these people being there in the same place. It really was about roots in many ways with the jazz influence even the rock influences. It made you appreciate Hip Hop on some level.

MG: Yeah. It's interesting what you are saying, from this result I am working on a project that is about jazz music. Most of the jazz music lovers are white people, more right wing. Especially in France, it's very typical for a right wing conservative to be a jazz lover.

Not here (U.S.)Š

MG: It's different here. I met with Quincy Jones and he talked about that. Kids don't listen to jazz music. It's not part of the culture. As the most prolific producer, he told me how difficult it was for a jazz musician to be accepted as an artist. It was the reason why a lot of them ended up doing drugs. They had to find their own place where they could feel good. He has a very important message and it was great that I could meet him. I talked about it with Spike Lee as well because his father is a jazz musician. I will talk more about it with him because I want to understand why jazz music is not part of the culture. I think one of the reasons is black culture is not represented. There is not enough trace of it in the entertainment memory.

Is it difficult to promote the film without Dave? Will he be doing some press?

MG: He's going to do some, but it's difficult to answer questions where I feel they want to ask Dave directly.

Is he doing Okay? Is it because of this controversy about him?

MG: People have been good about it.

Are you going to be working with him again?

MG: Yeah, I hope so.

What would you like to do with him?

MG: I want to use the magic he has when he goes to people and they suddenly open up. Like Lauren Hill for instance, she would never talk to any journalist but because he was Dave Chappell she opened up and we have a glimpse of how great and smart she is. I want to do a movie with him giving him as much freedom as I can to get this energy into a long form.

In your history you worked a lot in short form various form but this is like an interesting challenge to take a lot of your involvement with music and put it in this larger extended context. Was the big challenge trying to sustain it or was it in the editing? Did you find the heart of this film in the editing? It's interesting to see where you cut away, where you make it a documentary, where you make it a story.

MG: It was very difficult and very challenging. Whatever you do whether its short film, video, feature film or documentary you need to keep people's attention, and it's hard, especially on this length. You need to have a vision to take people from one place and brings them to another place, because in a way you need to have a sense of a journey. When you do a movie the first version is unbelievable, it's a disaster, it's horrible, and it's a feeling of depression.

Is it easier to make those painful cuts knowing that there is a DVD coming out?

MG: Yeah. It's true. I think DVD has a lot of great value. One of the values is feeling relaxed about using things. It's all about letting go but sometimes it's painful. The DVD helps us make the decision.



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