Winner of the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award and the Audience Award at this year's Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Broken Song is a great reminder that when it comes to cinema it's always best to leave your preconceptions in the foyer. You don't have to know about, or indeed even like, Irish hip-hop to enjoy this film. In fact, you'll probably get more out of Claire Dix's documentary if you're a complete novice.
Filmed in Ballymun and Finglas, Broken Song takes us into the worlds of three performers: Costello, GI and Willa Lee. Seen encouraging and teaching the younger freestylers in their area, Costello and GI focus on life's positives and articulate the need for personal responsibility for one's actions.
Teenager Willa Lee's life, however, is more chaotic. At the time of filming he's facing a prison sentence, with self-sabotage in danger of turning his huge raw talent into another hard luck story of what might have been. Plenty of people are on his side, but, as the saying goes, if you're looking for a helping hand you'll find one at the end of your arm.
Initial fears that Dix's gorgeous quayside opening sequence would be followed by a blizzard of bravado and machismo prove unfounded: Broken Song turns out to be a surprisingly moving and uplifting snapshot of life on the fringes of a city, an economy and an industry. The director has chosen her subjects well, lets them do all the talking and avoids preaching or patronising - for a first-time documentary maker many pitfalls are avoided.
In Costello and GI the message of empowerment shines through, with the flipside being Willa's apparent compulsion to be his own worst enemy. For all the frustration he provokes in the viewer (and his own long-suffering on-screen champion Scurry), you still want the best for Willa and are convinced he could go very far as an artist. The challenge is for him to believe the same.
Shot superbly in black and white with odd splashes of colour heightening the experience, Broken Song and its very different kind of troika rank among the finds of the year. Now to get those tunes...
Broken Song is at the IFI from November 15 and screens at axis Ballymun on November 27.