Rubble Kings is a feature length documentary about the New York city street gangs of the late ‘60s / ‘70s and their influence on hip-hop culture.
Rubble Kings is filmmaker’s Shan Nicholson second feature length documentary. In 2009, Shan completed work on the critically acclaimed documentary Downtown Calling about NYC’s music and art scene in the late 70s. The film got an Honorable Jury Mention (Best Documentary Feature) at the Austin Film Festival and continues to draw audiences to private screenings.

“The film’s lively roster of former Savage Skulls, Black Spades, Assassinators, Ghetto Brothers, Hitmen or Turban Queens, expressively recalling and explaining gang culture, is matched only by its flood of down-and-dirty archival imagery.” (Variety.com)

From 1968 to 1975, gangs ruled New York City. Beyond the idealistic hopes of the civil rights movement lay an unfocused rage. Neither law enforcement nor social agency could end the escalating bloodshed. Peace came only through the most unlikely and courageous of events that would change the world for generations to come by giving birth to hip-hop culture. Rubble Kings, the most comprehensive documentation of life during this era of gang rule to date, tells the story of how a few extraordinary, forgotten people did the impossible, and how their actions impacted the world over.

Rubble Kings is a feature length documentary about the New York city street gangs of the late ‘60s / ‘70s and their influence on hip-hop culture.

AMFM: What was the pivotal thing that led you to the Ghetto Brothers and when were you aware that they were so important?

SHAN: I’ve been aware of the Ghetto Brothers through research from my first film, Downtown Calling. When I was doing research on Downtown Calling I read Jeff Chang’s book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop that features a story about the Ghetto Brothers. We had just finished Downtown Calling but the creative blood was still in me and we were a little frustrated because we thought we were going to get distribution for it right away and you have that antsy feeling when you finish a film where you like ‘Whats next, whats next.’

So I read Jeff Chang’s book and the Ghetto Brother’s story really resonated with me. I used to be, well, we didn’t have gangs back in those days but we had graffiti crews back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I was definitely part of that whole thing that was happening here in NY. I have witnessed a lot of senseless violence and I’ve seen one of my best friends murdered.

So when I read their story I was intrigued, but I didn’t really have a place for it at the time. It was like a cool story that was floating around in the back of my head. I’m a DJ, and a record collector. Way before movies have been a part of my life, music was. One day I was at this record shop on 2nd street called A1 and I saw the Ghetto Brother’s record on the wall. It was a thousand dollars.

I thought “I know this name. What is it about this record?” I felt ‘Wow, this story is following me.’ Oddly enough, soon after, I went to a party and I ran into a friend of a friend. Out of nowhere this guy was designing the ghetto brother’s website. It was one of those things to where there were too many coincidences. I knew I had to explore this story. It was one of those moments where everything clicked into place.

I knew the key figures, Benjy and Karate Charlie were out there somewhere, and the story is just too good to be left alone. By the way, this film more than any other features Karate Charlie in a way that no other has. Everybody that sees the film is like ‘Oh my God, who is Karate Charlie?’ I want to spend some time with him. Benjy and Karate Charlie, they’re legends and they are so under appreciated and if it wasn’t for them a lot of people would have been dead and gone.

When it comes to research I am really diligent, I really like to get in the wookie hole and get into all the little films that are out there and the records and the articles and all that. I think that comes from record digging. It’s one of those traits I’ve picked up along the way. For me it is like discovering little gold mines – I love it. They’re legends and they are so under appreciated and if it wasn’t for them a lot of people would have been dead and gone.

So in any case I start putting the feelers out there and I was working with my producer Ben at the time and basically we cut a little teaser together from old gang footage and some beat boy footage without any interviews and without anything, just as a presentation that I could show people and ask what they thought about the concept, and right away people were into it. It was one of those things where the train just had to keep going. even though we didn’t have distribution for it and it didn’t have a home I just couldn’t stop creating it.

AMFM: What’s it like meeting Benjy for the first time?

SHAN: Benjy was amazing, he was so giving and he is just a teddy bear you just want to hang out with. He’s one of those guys that once the facade and the pleasantries of just meeting him are gone, he is really interesting, a really warm and beautiful guy. We sat and talked about things beyond the Ghetto Brothers and beyond the gangs. I remember sitting down and talking about music for hours. It was one of those things where I just shut up and listened because there was so much energy and so much knowledge that these people come with that you really just want to enjoy.

It was a good thing we had the camera rolling. He was so crystal clear about all the different events and things that were going on. We started way back in the 50s with the film, we went back before the outlaw culture hit and all the different things that were going on politically and socially and he could explore all of those topics.

NOTE: SHAN NICHOLSON HAS STARTED A RUBBLE KINGS KICKSTARTER FOR FINISHING FUNDS. THE LINK IS HERE

Have you ever tried to fund something with a KICKSTARTER campaign? It is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

AMFM: Why is that?

SHAN: You have to constantly reach out to people and constantly staying on emails and making sure every I is dotted and every T is crossed. It’s exciting and we are doing great and I’m very excited for the end result that I am pretty positive we are going to make our goal. It’s just a lot of work.

AMFM: Lets talk about distribution, where do you want to go with it?

SHAN: I would love to see this film as big as it could be. The online response, from the teaser alone, we have reached over 500,000 people worldwide. It is because of the power of the internet that we are going to get our message to reach worldwide audiences. I just got a email from somebody in Australia yesterday that wants to screen it out there. I was on skype with someone with Bogota Colombia last week and he wants to put it in a hip-hop festival that he has out there because there is such a bad gang problem that they want to be able to show it to the kids as an alternative. As an example. I would love to see it go as far and as wide as it can. On a major level but also on a minor level too, I would love to have private screening for at risk kids that would really benefit from this film.

We had a really great opportunity last year, we screened it for a bunch of high school students from inner city schools and for the Tribeca Film Industry Youth Screening Series. It was such an experience because high school kids are always ‘too cool for school’ – they don’t show any kind of emotion. So we screened the film and the kids dead silent. We thought “Oh boy, we flopped with them.”

When the moderator came to do a Q and A nobody was really raising their hands. There were a few questions here and there but we were like ‘Oh boy that was awkward.’ Later on when everybody left one of the teachers came up to us and said ‘Listen, they are like that with everything don’t take it personally. That is their whole M.O. – they don’t show any emotion.’ But then said she was sitting by one of the worst students in her class, and when the moderator asked the theater ‘So if you had to tell your friend about this film, what would you say?’ what really impressed her was this kid, that was the worst kid in class, said under his breath ‘It changes people’s minds,… It changes people’s minds.’ And she was like ‘Well why don’t you raise your hand and tell them that?’ and he said ‘No! no, no, no.’ It was all peer pressure.

RUBBLE KINGS TRAILER from shan nicholson on Vimeo.

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