Conditions in inner city neighborhoods across the United States, though different in make up, have very comparable traits. The pressures of poverty, violence, and systematic oppression all seem inherent, but we counter that by asking, how does one get a momentary release from the life? In comes, 12 O’Clock Boys, a documentary on Baltimore’s dirt bike culture directed by Lotfy Nathan.
Therapeutic release plays heavily into the film’s underlying themes and aesthetic, as we witness the modern day coming of age tale of a boy named Pug. While some kids his age — Nathan tracked his progression from 12-14-years old — aspire to be doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, musicians, and more, the charismatic young man wants to be a 12 O’Clock Boy, who are a largely renowned dirt bike collective in his hometown. Viewers will see Pug’s various ups and downs, as he chases his dream. They’re also introduced to Coco, his mother, and Steven, a friend of the family and 12 O’Clock Boy affiliate.
The story, while simplistic in theory, has too many nuances to count, making it all too easy to empathize with Pug’s story — especially if you too are from the inner city. Leading up to it’s release, Hip-Hop Wired spoke with the director, Nathan, to discuss what drew him to document Baltimore’s dirt bike culture, the characters in the tale and more.
Hip-Hop Wired: For you to be the first-time filmmaker, what made Baltimore — let alone the dirk bike scene — your topic of choice?
Lotfy Nathan: That’s a good question. I mean, it’s definitely foreign to me. I’m not even from Baltimore. But I think that was part of the attraction; it was something exotic and mysterious.
I also wasn’t exactly planning to make a feature film. It was a kind of warmth with the people I was feeling and a welcome in really feeling like was in a new world with it. That made me want to make into a feature film. But it start really as a short thing — I wasn’t sure what it would become. It’s strange. I would have never expected for that to be a subject of something that I would have made a film about. It kind of caught me off guard. I wasn’t exactly looking to find a subject to target to spend the next four years on.
Hip-Hop Wired: I also wanted to discuss that. I read somewhere that you wanted to be finished with this doc in 2009, but it ended up running until late 2013. Why’d you stick with the film?
LN: It’s hard to say. The early stages, I think it was just personal; it continued to speak to me creatively, you know? I was trying to be an artist. I was studying art and trying to be a painter, and that wasn’t speaking to me nearly as much as this project. It was just a personal validation and it was meaningful to me.
It was also very uncertain and kind of frustrating, you know? But then as time went by, more people got involved and it was appreciated by people who I respect. There were points of validation on the way — it was like little cookies on the way to keep going. That’s really what made me continue.
Hip-Hop Wired: Speaking on your visual arts background, I’m sure you have a natural appreciation for aesthetic. How did your point of view affect how you shot the film?
LN: For me, it was kind of informal. I just wanted it to look good…. or to look right. That phantom camera for example, like one of my producers, Eric Blair, and these two other guys — John Bennett and Nick Midwig — they made that stuff happen beautifully. There was a combination of people who definitely had a shared concern for the aesthetic qualities, and it was a privilege to use that camera.
Otherwise, just filming intuitively; I liked to frame things up. I almost didn’t know how to do it formally. I didn’t know the technical side as well with video, so it was good and bad, but I think it also allowed me to be sort of freed up.
Photo: Christopher Moore, Brett Davis