If you haven’t heard of the Hennessy Artistry Series, the multi-city slate of sonically striking music performances by acts that run the gamut from the alternative to the improvisational to the alchemic virtuosity of hip-hop, the rock you’ve been living under is about to be overturned.
Since its debut in 2006, the formative blending of music, art, culture and style fashioned by the most storied Cognac brand in the world, has become a mainstay among the throngs of music lovers that have packed into invite-only, intimate venues across the country.
Last year, Henny tapped acclaimed filmmaker Thibaut De Longeville to direct the recently released documentary, The Art of Blending, which encapsulates a medley of iconic and unforgettable performances by emerging and popular artists and behind-the-scenes interviews with Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Eve, Bobby Brown, Ron Isley, Erykah Badu, Jay Electronica, D-Nice, Q-Tip and The Legendary Roots Crew.
XXLMag.com caught up with the French director of the cult-classics, Just For Kicks, a documentary about sneakers and hip-hop, and, Air Force 1: Anatomy of an Urban Legend, a feature-length doc about Nike’s Air Force 1 narrated by KRS-One, in Paris for the 9th Annual Quai 54 International Streetball Tournament to talk about everything that went into creating his latest doc.—Maurice Bobb
XXL: How did a reformed sneaker addict like you get into filmmaking?
Thibaut De Longeville: I started out as a production assistant in the early/mid-90s, interning and working in various production companies, assisting directors like Fab 5 Freddy, Brett Ratner, Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Michel Gondry working on music videos, hanging out on sets, trying to absorb and learn as much as I could on the field. I started producing myself in 2003, and directed my first film in 2005: Just for Kicks, which gained a lot of attention worldwide and opened a lot of doors for me in terms of filmmaking.
Why do you prefer to direct documentary style films?
There have been major evolutions with the documentary medium/art form in the past 10 years. I think films like Dogtown & Z-Boys, Buena Vista Social Club, Scratch, Infamy, Helvetica and some say films like Just for Kicks have changed what can be expected from a documentary nowadays. Filmmaking in general has become more accessible and now offers a lot of different ways to tell a story, so in turn you get a whole new energy in documentary films that are non-traditional and can be infused with influences coming from music videos, motion pictures, graphic design, beat making, etc. and that’s very exciting. I just love documentaries as a filmmaker, and as a Hip-Hop head I think the medium is incredibly appropriated to subject matters relative to the culture, which deals a lot with reality and the real world rather than fiction. That being said, I’m definitely not limiting myself to documentaries and enjoy all sorts of filmmaking, from music videos to shorts to hopefully soon fiction.
How did the Hennessy Art of Blending documentary come to be?
Hennessy has been developing a program called Hennessy Artistry for the past seven or eight years, working with musicians, photographers, visual artists, etc. But they had never really documented the experiences. They contacted me on the eve of the last Hennessy Artistry tour, which featured a pretty heavy line-up of artists and presented a good opportunity to document and share these quite unique and quite exclusive experiences with the world. We talked a little bit about how to make it happen, and I before I knew it, I was on the road with this unbelievable cast of artists.
What was your vision for the documentary before you started filming and did it change at any point?
I wanted to try and capture the essence of what these iconic artists stand for, and the spirit of them collaborating in very classy settings. I actually had very little time to prepare shooting, so I kind of had to adapt on the road as we were shooting, dealing with everyone’s availability and the fact the events weren’t originally produced with the intention of making them into a film at all. As high-end and as classy as the events where, the production of the film itself was actually as ‘rockumentary’ as it gets.
How were you able to get all of the participating musicians to speak for the project?
All the artists on the tour had pretty busy schedules outside the performances so getting them to commit to our windows of opportunity was one of the most difficult things on the project. I’m glad we still managed to steal time here & there and get them on camera to share their thoughts on collaborating with other artists, where the culture stands, and their dedication to their craft, which I think is one thing all the artists featured on the tour really shared.
Why did you choose to shoot the film in black and white?
I am fascinated with the aesthetics of jazz music, whether jazz photography from the likes of William Claxton and Blue Note’s Francis Wolff or jazz album cover art from the likes of Reid Miles and other designers. There’s an obvious parallel between jazz musicians and artists like The Roots, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Soulquarians & Native Tongues tribes; but I had never really seen them filmed and presented in that fashion, and I thought this project was a great opportunity to do something in that direction. I wanted to focus on these artists’ personalities and their performances, beyond the context of the events, and not have anything dated in that way. My aim was really to capture something timeless, that you can hopefully watch in 10 or 15 years and say ‘Hey, that was kinda cool’.
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