First and foremost, Bryn Evans’ Hip Hop-eration is unabashedly what we would generally refer to as a ‘feel good’ film. Following a group of elderly hip hop dancers from New... more Zealand and their efforts to perform at the world championships in Las Vegas, the documentary interprets its events via a well-worn inspirational story arc that brings underdogs to glory against all odds. Needless to say, on an emotional level, Hip Hop-eration is a film with some rather familiar goals. So it’s a testament to Evans’ advanced craftsmanship that he succeeds in meeting those goals, making sympathetic characters of his subjects while convincingly depicting an easing of cross-generational tensions and a resistance to the limits of aging.
Much like the film they’re in, the octo- and nonagenarians of the Hip Op-eration crew treat their endeavour as one that’s neither wholly serious nor a cheap joke. Warmly self-deprecating humour runs through the picture, particularly from the group’s manager, Billie, a dedicated worker who assures her team that they will all be making the trip to Vegas “even if it’s in an urn”.
But, without slipping into illusions of self-importance, Bryn Evans still shows an appreciation for their efforts and the optimistic ideas their act carries. The director takes the time to explore the personal lives of his subjects, observing the restrictive power of family obligations and age-related medical issues. Modern music and dance are placed in contrast and continuity with that of the dancers’ adolescent years, while stories of youthful rebellion and pot-smoking suggest an empathy with current frustrated young people. As implied by one scene of a cancer survivor describing how technological advancements saved her life, the present day isn’t such a scary era for these dancers, even if many of them don’t much care for the music they’re dancing to.
The sharp, well-paced editing and visuals of Hip Hop-eration keep things alive and interesting. Evans keeps his camera trained on his individuals long enough to witness full subtle emotional arcs, recognising the value of keeping the awkward pauses in the final cut and lingering on the everyday, weary movements of individuals hindered by arthritis. It’s only during the performances themselves that the filmmakers get in the way of their subjects, employing too much editing for the viewer to get a genuine sense of what the live audiences are seeing and, in the process, limiting the payoff of these climactic sequences. Perhaps it’s the funny, touching journey, rather than the destination, that’s important anyway.
In lesser hands, Hip Hop-eration could’ve been a sugary, manipulative, by-the-numbers work of forced exuberance. It’s the talent and sincerity behind the camera that helps us to care about, understand and identify with the people in front of the camera, living up to the film’s notions of art and dedication bringing people together.
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