Local Current Blog

Justin Schell’s local music documentary ‘We Rock Long Distance’ to premiere

Tou SaiKo Lee and a young Hmong girl, via "We Rock Long Distance" on Facebook

We Rock Long Distancethe first feature-length documentary by Minneapolis-based director and producer Justin Schell, is set to premiere on Feb. 6. The film follows the stories of three Minnesota hip-hop artists, showing how their roots “far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes” have influenced their life and music.

The documentary film has been a several-year project for Schell. The idea for the documentary grew from an essay Schell wrote back in 2007 about the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. That was also when Schell first met the three artists who were to be the focus of the film: Ghana-born M.anifest; “Sota Rican” (Minnesotan-Puerto Rican) Maria Isa; and Tou SaiKo Lee, who was born in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand.

Each artist is seen visiting the country where he or she has roots. Schell told City Pages that in the early stages of the project, during the first trip to Ghana, the exact concept for the film hadn’t yet taken full shape. “We didn’t have any expectations going in.”

Earning the trust of local artists in the countries visited proved to be a hurdle, due to fears of exploitation. “People are very protective of their cultural heritage,” Schell explained in the City Pages article. The project succeeded in the end, though, and the resulting documentary shows all three artists collaborating with family members to create new music.

We Rock Long Distance will screen twice as part of the Catalyst Film Series at Intermedia Arts. Tickets for the premiere on Feb. 6 can be purchased on the Intermedia Arts website. Also on Feb. 6, Maria Isa is performing at Bedlam Lowertown.

Lillian Speakman is a student at Hamline University. She’s a reporter for Hamline’s newspaper The Oracle and a DJ for HU Radio.