The Socalled Movie: An interview with director Garry Beitel

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Meet Socalled, aka Josh Dolgin. He’s a multi-disciplinary musician and artist whose unique blend of klezmer, hip hop and funk is blasting through the boundaries that separate music of different cultures, eras and generations. The Socalled Movie will have its Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival, which kicked off yesterday. A while back, director Garry Beitel sat down to talk with me about the project:

Julie Matlin: This isn’t a traditional music documentary. Can you tell us a little bit about the approach you took?

Garry Beitel: This project has been built around events and also around the themes I was trying to explore. Themes such as his creative process. This is not a biography and no, it’s not a music film. I was inspired in my approach to this film by Francois Girard’s 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

The idea came to me that it would be interesting to create a series of short films around Josh. In the same spirit, I wanted each of those shorts to be a different film with a different aesthetic and a different perspective on his creative process. With each film, I wanted a sense of anticipation: What are we going to find out here? What are we going to see and hear that’s unique?

JM: What’s it like working with Josh?

GB: Josh is prolific. He’s one of those incessant creators. He’s always creating something. That’s his life. He’s always playing with his sampler or taking pictures or learning a new magic trick or drawing cartoons and caricatures or developing a whole new repertoire of music or writing a film script or making a film.

Over 2 years of filming, we’ve captured a shift in his confidence and his bravado. He’s more cynical, but he’s also more sure of himself. He hasn’t become a star, but he’s coming into his own. There’s a maturing there. He was completely open and naïve in the beginning, answering everything we asked him. Then it became, “I don’t have to answer that question.” There was a sense of “I don’t have to talk about that.” That’s a type of maturing that I’ve watched progress.

JM: In shooting over a 2 year period, you must have seen an evolution in his music, as well…

GB: We have definitely captured the change in his style. When I started filming, he was a hip hop klezmer musician. He was the cool klezmer musician on the edges of klezmer. Even though he had a somewhat secular upbringing, he connected to the klezmer music. But it was somewhat parochial, for him and for others as well. He wanted to hold on to it, but still step out and make music that was more universal.

Klezmer allowed him to break out into different styles of music but still hold on to his roots. It distinguished him. He didn’t want to be only a Jewish musician, but he liked the idea of taking Hassidic and cantorial music, mixing them into his songs and bringing these new “beats” into the mainstream. At a Socalled concert, there are always a number of songs that are either in Yiddish or otherwise fall into the tradition of Jewish music. That’s what makes him original, and he carries it with him.

Become a fan on the Socalled Facebook page.

Watch more clips from The Socalled Movie.

For more information about screening times at the Festival, visit the Hot Docs website.