Dark City Beneath the Beat

Hot Docs 2020: Dark City Beneath the Beat

The opening title card of Dark City Beneath the Beat states that “there are thousands of ways to tell this story.” It just so happens that filmmaker and musician TT the Artist has chosen the most infectious and kinetic way to tell it. Co-produced by Issa Rae, her film is more than a love letter to her hometown of Baltimore, it is a celebratory declaration of the artistic culture the city has fostered.

Taking viewers on a colourful and lyrical tour of her beloved city, TT the Artist breaks down misconceptions of Baltimore while making one’s booty shake in the process. If you thought the city was nothing more than the impoverished hotbed of crime, as portrayed in The Wire, prepare to be schooled by TT the Artist, DJs, producers, dancers and activists who have been lifting up a community that outsiders have long ignored.

Skillfully blending archival footage with lively performance pieces, Dark City Beneath the Beat effortlessly presents a mosaic of the people, sights and sounds that give Baltimore its pulsing beat. In a wonderful hybrid of documentary filmmaking and music video aesthetics, TT the Artist captures how Baltimore club music, a unique sub-genre that mixes hip-hop and house music, has helped to shape the sprawling cultural hub Baltimore has become.

She not only touches on how Baltimore club music afforded her the opportunity to give back by starting Club Queen Records, her own record label which promotes music made by women of colour, but also on how key figures in the Baltimore music scene have given people hope. With programs like the Queen and King of Baltimore dance competitions and groups like “B’more than Dance” those in the music community are giving youth structure, while teaching them to be business savvy at the same time.

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While an uplifting film, Dark City Beneath the Beat does not shy away from the racism and violence that has plagued the city. An animated sequence touches on the killing of Freddie Gray and a beautiful sequence involving a ballerina in a graveyard pays tribute to all the lives lost. However, TT the Artist reminds audiences that even in tragedy, Baltimore finds the creative strength to move forward.

Whether it is the music of the legendary beats that flowed out of The Paradox nightclub, the sense of community in the Cherry Hill projects, or the colourful characters outside the local market, TT the Artist presents a city comprised of many voices. Regardless of whether they are straight, gay, trans, old, musician, poet, shop worker or truck drive, they each contribute to the city’s harmonious chorus. Dark City Beneath the Beat is as joyous and electric as the pulsing soundtrack that guides it.

Dark City Beneath the Beat is available to stream until June 24 and it includes a Q&A.

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