In the late 1970s, the “greatest city in the world” was teetering on the edge of total chaos. A failed economy, crime and en mass housing corruption gave way to a city in crisis. Yet out of the economic and social strife that held the “Big Apple” hostage, a family of homegrown cultures that would forever change the world began to emerge. Downtown Calling not only documents, in detail, the evolution of New York City’s fertile music and art subculture during this period, but how its collective output continues to play a prominent, driving role in the international fashion, art and music industries today.
Downtown Calling is narrated by Debbie Harry and features interviews with pioneers of the early New York cultural scene including DJ AM, James Chace, Fab 5 Freddy, Bobbito Garcia, Nelson George, DJ Jazzy Jay, Mos Def, Arthur Baker, Daze, former Mayor Ed Koch and many others.
Trailer can be seen here
Shan Nicholson — Director / Producer
A lifelong resident of Queens’ Long Island City and direct child of its burgeoning art scene, Shan Nicholson was reared on the streets of New York City during the politically turbulent and artistically rich period of the early 1980s. Within the span of his 15-year career as a music producer, renowned graffiti artist and DJ he has worked extensively within the genres that have since dominated the sounds of both the city and the greater world, and continues to record and publish music with his collective, Cloudkickers. Nicholson, initially introduced to filmmaking as a student at SUNY Purchase, first realized the documentary concept, as well as the grand cultural and fiscal opportunity that it presented after his audience gave him continual questions throughout a particularly energetic/successful period deejay set. The artists and music featured in Downtown Calling remain crowd-moving staples within Mr. Nicholson’s legendary DJ sets at some of New York City’s premier clubs and parties. Downtown Calling is Mr. Nicholson’s directorial debut.
Debbie Harry — Narrator
Most famously known as the lead singer/songwriter for the iconic new wave band Blondie, Downtown Calling’s Narrator, Debbie Harry, is recognized the world over as the iconic sex symbol of the year zero punk generation. In addition to writing and performing smash hits like “Heart of Glass”, “Call Me”, “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture”, Harry has acted in over thirty film roles and numerous television appearances.
Ben Velez — Producer
Ben Velez has turned a lifetime steeped in downtown NYC culture into a craft for launching and growing brands. Known for rebranding and growing the international streetwear brand Triple Five Soul (at which he served first as Global Brand Director before becoming Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations), his career has also included playing an integral role at Burton Snowboards’ higher echelon line, Analog and UK luxury streetwear brand, Maharishi. A multi-disciplinary background in deejaying and music journalism to fashion styling and public relations, combined with an anal-retentive professionalism and a lifelong set of strong relationships with peer creatives and businesspeople alike, has led Velez through a successful and renowned career that has traversed the high-end sportswear, streetwear, action sports and music industries. Velez has also spent the better part of his life compiling and curating music for fellow artists, producers and companies, and is currently the owner of his own full-service marketing consultancy and music supervision company. In addition to his corporate skillset, Velez has, over the course of his lifetime, built a strong, personal network of music celebrities and record label honchos upon which he relies upon regularly to combine work and pleasure.
David Viola —Producer
David Viola, a native New Yorker who has been working in the film business in varying capacities since his graduation from Binghamton University in 1998, is a film producer at Filbert Steps Productions in New York. He is currently in post-production on Trumbo, a film about the Hollywood blacklist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s resultant experiences. Featuring Liam Neeson, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane and David Strathairn, Trumbo expects to make its world premiere at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival. Previously, David produced Runaway, which premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca and Toronto Film Festivals and won the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2005 Austin Film Festival. Runaway starred Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2 and 3, Tadpole and The Hills Have Eyes) and Robin Tunney (Vertical Limit, End of Days, The Craft and Fox’s “Prison Break”). Before joining Filbert Steps, David’s experience included stints at Julia Roberts’ Revolution-based Shoelace (now Red-Om) Productions and indie-leading Artisan Entertainment during the Blair Witch Project and Requiem for a Dream projects. He had also freelance-evaluated scripts for independent production companies and studios throughout the city. Viola brings his invaluable, personal industry relationships with top festival programmers, agents, distributors and sales reps to the Downtown Calling production team.
Michael Holman – Producer
Born in San Francisco, Producer Michael Holman has lived, worked and remained a cultural influence in New York City since 1978. An original fixture in New York City’s burgeoning art and club scene, Holman, together with artist Jean Michel Basquiat, formed what was arguably one of the first industrial noise bands of the period, Grey, in 1979. Their success in the downtown art world led them to performances at legendary clubs such as the Mudd Club, CBGB’s, Hurrah’s and The Rock Lounge. Being that he was one of the truly first journalists and impresarios of hip-hop culture, Holman’s nights at Club Negril became the launching point for the globalization of hip-hop culture (mostly due to his personal crusade to cross pollinate New York City’s uptown and downtown music scenes). Having graduated New York University’s Graduate School of Film, Holman directed Catch a Beat (the first B-boy/breakdance film (1981), Associate produced Beat Street (the first hip-hop feature film) for Orion Pictures (1984). Lastly, and perhaps, most notably, Holman produced, wrote and hosted, Graffiti Rock, the first ever Emmy Award nominated hip-hop television show (which aired in 88 syndicated markets nationwide) in 1984.
Reid Van Renesse – Producer / Director of Photography / Editor
Reid van Renesse was initially introduced to the downtown New York City streets through skateboarding, the hardcore music scene of the late 1980s and bike messenger culture. There are four themes that have remain constant throughout his life: music, motion, art and adventure. In 2003 Reid directed, shot, and edited, Dithers. Shot in New York City, San Francisco & Los Angeles, Dithers is the first documentary to capture the wide array of contemporary artists and designers creating the visual landscape of today’s urban culture. Van Renesse has a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from SUNY Purchase and currently lives in Brooklyn, where he continues to shoot, edit and direct independent fashion and music video projects.
Tunnel Vision by Reid Van Renesse
WORLD PREMIERE – AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
October 9th, 2009
DOWNTOWN CALLING will make it’s international festival debut at the Austin Film Festival at 9:15pm on Saturday, October 24th at The Rollins Theater. An additional screening will take place at 7pm on Thursday, October 29th at The Independent at 501.
Downtown Calling website
Excellent blog that features old school New York, UK & French Hip-Hop and Edit radio shows here