If the phrase “good German hip-hop” is something of an oxymoron to you, you’re living in the past. Back in 1980, when Thomas Gottschalk, Frank Laufenberg and Manfred Sexauer released their own German version of Rapper’s Delight, Fremdschämen was more than acceptable. It’s amazing Gottschalk got as far as he did having released that monstrosity.
But over the past thirty-five years, German hip-hop has developed and has produced rap artists from all walks of life and from a variety of cultural backgrounds – be it Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish.
On May 7, the hip-hop documentary Wenn der Vorhang fällt will celebrate its premiere – in the City Kino on Sonnenstraße. Director Michael Münch worked on the project for three years – interviewing various rap artists around the country to paint a picture of hip-hop in Germany – its roots, its artists and its multifaceted appeal. I caught up with the young director to find out more about his motivations behind making a movie about German rap.
Michi, tell us a little bit about yourself and your love of cinema…
My passion for film and TV originated when I was ten or eleven – I’d go round to one of my best friend’s houses and we’d “steal” video tapes from his big brother, tapes that he’d rented out. We’d watch everything – from Disney to the grossest 18+ splatter films. We’d watch them until late at night, feeling completely in awe at these extreme, different worlds. That was the first intense contact to film that I had. From then on it was always a passion of mine, and as I was an exchange student in the US, I spent a semester working for the school TV station WCHS.
After that I was hooked – until I finished school I always had a camera in my hand, and was constantly making short movies. After school I moved to Munich and studied Digital Film and 3D Animation at the SAE. As it wasn’t quite enough for me, I became a freelancer while studying, and made short documentaries while travelling the world.
In an interview with All Good., you mentioned that music was always important to you. Were you already a fan of hip-hop in particular, or was it something of a voyage of discovery?
From the very beginning it was a voyage of discovery for me. Of course I had my own musical tastes – hip-hop and other musical genres, but while researching and then while filming, I learned so much about the subject. But – as prior to the documentary – my hip-hop tastes have remained very selective. And that’s the way it is with art. A question of tastes. But you can – and I did – explore a subject thoroughly without finding everything about it great.
You financed the documentary yourself – was this something you considered very carefully beforehand? And were you worried that it wouldn’t pay off?
I really wanted to be independent when it came to the production of the film. Before we started making the movie, I gathered together all of my resources in terms of man power and finances, and analyzed if it was at all possible. Of course you need courage and willingness to take the risk, and I reached the conclusion that I could go ahead and finance the film myself. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry too much about the funding, and I never doubted my approach, but of course the process of creating a documentary from start to finish cost a lot of effort. However, I was always sure it would be worth it in the end – and I still am.
What was your aim with the film?
My goal was to make a film that portrayed a culture relatively timelessly, and to portray something to which I have a personal connection. At the same time, I wasn’t interested in being at the centre of the stories – as is the case with director David Sieveking for instance. In this case, I wanted to be an unseen narrator. After a few months of “loose research” on a variety of topics, I chose hip-hop. To be exact, I chose the vocal part of hip-hop – rap.
I started the project alone, but it quickly became an allegory for hip-hop itself. So many people offered to help me – to provide their knowledge for free, and I built up a network of people who trusted in my vision and together, we’ve created a documentary that I believe sets a benchmark for future German music documentaries. I simply wanted to make a film that leaves an impression on everyone who sees it.
Who provided you with the most interesting interview?
All of the interviews were fascinating, as every single person experienced the history of German rap in different ways. Of course some interviews were longer than others, but that was largely to do with the amount of time we had to conduct the interviews in. The more time we had, the deeper we could dive into the past and the more we could discuss the present. I don’t think I could say any one was more interesting than the other, because all of them were great fun.
PULS commented on the fact that no woman was interviewed for the documentary – why was that the case?
As I discussed with PULS in an interview, I repeatedly contacted rappers – including women – who didn’t respond to my interview requests. Over time I realised that if I did interview a woman for the film, I’d have to acknowledge the topic and treat it worthily. It was already very difficult covering thirty-plus years of rap history in 80 minutes, and I didn’t want to dumb down or shorten the topic of women in rap. I think it’s too important to deal with in just ten minutes, because so many social aspects come into play. In my opinion, the topic is worthy of a film itself – it’s so fascinating! And who knows, maybe that’s my next project…
When and where can we catch the documentary?
Wenn der Vorhang fällt starts from May 7 as part of DOK.fest (with English subtitles!), and you can catch it three times – May 7 at 8pm in the City Kino, May 10 at 9:30pm the HFF Open Air and May 12 at 10pm at the City Kino. We’re working on screening the film at various festivals around Germany and are working on a cinema tour, so that the film can be viewed in regular cinemas. But in order to do this, we need strong partners who can support us in many areas. We’re confident that there will be news in this area soon though. And the best thing that can happen to us is that people interested in the project follow us, stay with us and keep asking – we just have to wait a little and can then hopefully show everyone our fantastic project.