The Otherside and Deep City are two documentaries that couldn't be more different, but the love their subjects share for music is the unifying factor. Both films clock in at under an hour and are being shown as a double feature at the Florida Film Festival, and despite the contrasts between them, it is an appropriate double bill. The films are not great, but the stories they tell are compelling enough to keep the viewer interested. They do what they need to do and end before outlasting their respective welcomes.
The Otherside examines the Seattle underground music scene and the varied and myriad artists that make up the local hip hop culture. Many of the musicians are interviewed, with special attention given early on to Sir Mix-a-Lot, a Seattle native and the elder statesman of the local hip hop scene. A current of hometown pride runs through all the artists, and this seems to be a unifying factor among them, with very little of the infighting so common in the rap communities of Los Angeles or New York; none of these musicians seem to have "beef" with any of the others. The film eventually focuses almost exclusively on rapper Macklemore, who has become a superstar in the last few years.
Deep City is the story of an upstart record label in Miami in the early 1960's that functioned as an alternative to Motown and was the only African American owned record label in Florida. Producers Willie Clark and Johnnie Pearsall, themselves products of Miami's mean streets, masterminded the label and fostered a number of artists that received national airplay. After many years of obscurity, the entire collection is finally seeing the light of day thanks to reissue on a boutique record label.
Both films are fairly standard documentaries, with the talking head interviews mixed in with video from various concerts, and in the case of Deep City, a great deal of archival footage. This is all interesting enough, but not really compelling. The best moments in both deal with the individual artists. A Seattle rapper struggles to follow his dream while raising his son, knowing that it might not pan out but striving nonetheless. In Deep City, Willie Clark frets that when people think of the Miami sound they think of bands like Miami Sound Machine, rather than the artists that Deep City nurtured in the 60's. Both films deal with artists that never quite made it, and this melancholy thread strengthens the films. They aren't for everyone, but music fans and music history buffs should get a kick out of them both.