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Concert Doc Rings the Changes

Rock the Bells is a gripping documentary that charts the exhaustive attempt by promoter Chang to get all 10 members of legendary hip-hop crew The Wu-Tang Clan together for their first gig in 10 years....

Rock the Bells is a gripping documentary that charts the exhaustive attempt by promoter Chang to get all 10 members of legendary hip-hop crew The Wu-Tang Clan together for their first gig in 10 years. Filmmakers Casey Suchan and Dennis Henry Hennelly tell me how they moulded a chaotic experience into a terrific piece of documentary storytelling.

One of the first things that startles about this fast-paced delight of a documentary is the sense of immediacy, a consequence of the haste with which it was conceived. “We met with Chang three weeks before the show and began filming the next day,” Hennelly remembers. “The worst case scenario was we would have an interesting movie, the best case was that we’d have something very dramatic.” The latter certainly proved to be true.

That the co-directors have managed to mould what is, at heart, a concert movie into a gripping narrative about the concert is remarkable. “Making documentaries is really filmmaking 101,” Suchan tells me. “You have to be figure out how to tell a story without the benefit of a script. You have to freestyle.”

A central figure of their narrative and the Wu-Tang collective is drug-addicted rapper ODB, who died just four months after the concert, and whose appearance on stage is never certain. “He was definitely the heart and soul of the group in the eyes of the fans,” Hennelly explains. “For Chang to promise all ten menbers of the Wu-Tang and not deliver would disappoint.”

The questions hanging over ODB’s appearance on the day led to delays, near-rioting and constant crushes, and element which is captured remarkably close-up. “We had a lot of brave and ambitious camera people on this show and they really got into the thick of things,” Hennelly explains.

The immensity of their achievement in capturing a historic musical event wasn’t immediately apparent. “At the end of the day we filmed them [promoter Chang and partner Carla] driving away,” Suchan recalls. “At that point we knew we had something really remarkable, something special and we had a huge responsibility to put this together."

Rock the Bells is showing on 18 and 23 August at Cineworld.

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