The streets of Miami are more dangerous than those of Baghdad, per “Rampage,” a sobering reflection on U.S. domestic affairs threaded through the story of hip-hopping brothers in an ultra-dangerous Florida ‘hood. Maverick Aussie documaker George Gittoes draws together musical ambition, family ties and several definitions of war in this vital package. Following its Berlin fest world preem, DV docu looks set for further exposure on the circuit, with lively ancillary. A 35mm transfer is in the works for theatrical release Down Under and in the U.K.
As a non-embedded cameraman in Iraq, Gittoes discovered U.S. serviceman Eliott Lovett hip-hopping in Baghdad, and made him a subject of the docu “Soundtrack to War” (2005). “Rampage” picks up with Eliott returning home to Brown Sub, a Miami nabe noted for a high proliferation of street rappers and notorious for gang-related violence.
It’s here the idea of what actually constitutes a war zone is brought into question. Joe Byrnes, a criminology professor and ex-cop with 10 years’ experience in Brown Sub, declares the area fits the definition by virtue of incident levels, weaponry used — “I’ve seen them come with bazookas” — and the organization of its rival groups. His opinion is supported by many of Eliott’s peers, who claim you need more bravery to stay in Miami than to enter Iraq.
There’s an urgent sense of time and place as the viewer is introduced to Eliott’s family and the broader Brown Sub community.
Buzzing with energy from all sorts of social, musical and street-political directions, docu punches up a gear when Gittoes extends his role from documaker to music promoter after being wowed by the rapping of Eliott’s brothers, Marcus and Denzell.
Fourteen-year-old Denzell is undoubtedly the star attraction: his intense, poetic compositions about the violence he’s witnessed inspire Gittoes to shop the youngster to major record companies in New York. Significant figures include producer Swizz Beatz.
Despite the Gotham detour, Gittoes never strays too far from trying to make sense of the Lovett boys’ lives in relation to domestic fallout from the war being waged by the U.S. far beyond Brown Sub. Though Iraq gets little screen time, its correlation to a tiny, very troubled part of America is always close to the surface.
Only segment that feels out of place is a brief visit by Denzell and fourth brother Alton to Gittoes’ home Down Under, which may leave non-Aussie auds confused.
On-the-fly lensing by Gittoes and his teenage son Harley is arresting without being showy, and skilful cutting by ace features editor Nick Meyers makes the notion of a drama based on these characters and events seem entirely feasible.