2009; 83 minutes; feature documentary
Directed by Gabriel Noble
Free; Thursday, September 3 (rain date, September 10)
Live 8:30 p.m. music performance by P-Star;
9:00 p.m. screening, followed by Q&A with the filmmaker
At the lawn of Ft Greene Park, North Portland and Myrtle Avenue,
Ft. Greene, Brooklyn (G train to Fulton)
For information, www.rooftopfilms.com
Photo courtesy of Rooftop Films & the filmmaker
P-Star dancing in foreground, looming large in background
Rooftop Films presents P-Star, under starry sky
2009 Tribeca Film Festival flick gets Brooklyn premiere
BY ELENA MANCINI
P-Star Rising is the story of a second chance that emerged from a Harlem housing shelter, “a rose in concrete,” as director Gabriel Noble refers to the character and talent of child rapper P-Star (on which his feature documentary is based).
When Noble met Priscilla “P-Star” Diaz and her father/manager/former hip-hop hopeful Jesse Diaz at a rapper debut dance party in NYC, he knew immediately that P-Star was not just a kid with a lot of spunk — she had a story that was worth telling.
At the time, she was all of nine years old. What struck Noble about P-Star (apart from her tender age and the fact that she was out at a party past midnight on a school night) was “the aggressiveness of her flow, charisma, her street smarts and her fire.” As Noble describes it, he wanted to learn “where that cadence was coming from.” Coupled with P-Star’s precociousness and passion for performing was also the consciousness of wanting to bring forward the dream that had seemingly eluded her father.
Five years have passed since Noble’s first encounter with the Diaz family. During that five year period, Noble (with the help of producer Marjhan Tehrani) has spent four years getting to know the family intimately and filming them for this tour-de-force feature documentary. The process of filming brought Noble and the Diaz to form a close bond. Noble described it as feeling like a member of their family. The comfortable rapport between the director and the family certainly comes across in watching the documentary. All of the family members seemed at ease playing themselves. Their interactions with one another appeared natural and candid throughout. This sense also remained strong in moments that highlighted character weaknesses, poor judgment, disappointments and defeats.
Particularly noteworthy in this regard was Jesse Diaz. Armed with scant resources and cast in an emotionally challenging familial situation, this single father did not have an easy time at bringing up two young daughters who longed for their absentee, crack-addled mother. Jesse’s parenting style might be unorthodox, but his straight talk and refusal to whitewash his checkered past for their benefit is a testament to his love and unwavering devotion.
As much as the story depicts the perks and pitfalls of launching and managing a career in the New York City hip-hop scene, it’s even more a story about a family’s struggles to fulfill a dream without present for one another and sticking together. The Diaz family brings its both its love for one another and its baggage to the well documented risks and gains of child stardom. It learns many lessons along the way.
P-Star must learn to temper her pluck and talent with her need to just be a kid. Jesse must come to accept that despite his commitment to confronting the pressures and responsibilities that come with dual role of manager/father, the intervention of humbling realities cannot be prevented. Solsky must learn the importance of self-expression in a shadow role. While this is in many ways a distinctly New York story, its disarming authenticity and emotional rawness give it universal appeal. Noble, whose future projects include a documentary on gypsy children in Romania, tells P-Star’s story with sensitivity and respect.