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Albert & Allen Hughes

     Has an African-American filmmaker ever before made a feature film outside the borders of the United States? I'd venture a guess that Allen and Albert Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents), co-directing fraternal twin brothers from Detroit, are the first. They're currently deep in production for From Hell, a Jack the Ripper saga being shot in London and Prague that stars Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

     "In America, if you're black, they think for you to make a movie you have to have lived the life. You're not supposed to make something you don't know. But aren't you?" said Allen Hughes, a press conference at the Czech Republic's Karlovy Vary Film Festival, two hours away from the Prague filming of From Hell.

     "They never question Spielberg," piped in Albert Hughes, "Nobody asks, did you spend time in space to make E.T.?

     But if you saw our script for From Hell, you'd see it's consistent with our other stories, about the underclass, street life."

     Albert is the cinematographer, Allen directs the actors. Yes, they finish each other's thoughts.

     "We plan to stay together," said Albert. "Every day, there's a fight, but we don't harp on it."

     "I disagree completely with what he just said," said Allen. "He's a dick!"

     A journalist asked them if they are afraid of working with big movie stars.

     "Not if you give them a lot of cocaine," joked Allen.

     "On this one we got lucky," said Albert. "We haven't had the experience of temper tantrums and people running into their trailers."

     "We talked about casting one of those guys just so we could get past it," said Allen. "We screwed up with Johnny Depp, who is the sweetest person on the planet and does none of that... He's coming tomorrow to Prague. I want to tongue-kiss Johnny Depp!"

     The Hughes freres' latest, the volatile documentary, American Pimp, was being premiered for Central Europe at Karlovy Vary, playing in the Documentary Competition. For the film, they spent two years on American streets hanging out with African-American pimps. The summation in the Karlovy Vary catalogue is apt: "...the pimps brag about their new cars and fat wallets and perhaps reveal more than they intended."

     "How did you get the pimps to talk so comfortably into the camera?" asked a local film critic. "Here in the Czech Republic, you can't get criminals to speak for fear they'll get arrested."

     "We grew up in hip-hop culture," said Allen, " a lot of their lingo was similar. We bullshitted with them and the walls went down."

     "They have an ego," said Albert. "They want to be popular, and we appealed to their vanity, that they'd be on the big screen. It was easier with the middle pimps, the 100,00 - 300,000 guys. We had more trouble getting to those who made a million a year or more. They had a lot to lose."

     "And it was easier with those who had quit and were leading a 'normal' life," said Allen. "Some working pimps were all gung ho, ready to say it for the camera, but then when the film came close to release, they called and asked to be cut out. A lot of others called and said they should be included. In their hearts, they all thought they should be in the film. Each thinks he's the best pimp, so there's jealousy."

     Did the pimps ever turn on the filmmakers?

     "They were easy-going with us," said Allen. "We saw no violence, though certain pimps in certain ghettos had their goons come out and hit on us for liquor and money. They were the lower guys, the true street pimps. Con men."

     Do the pimps have a good side?

     "The number one thing they have to have is charm." said Allen. "They were charming and disarming. That was the good side - they definitely have a bad side."

     "They probably beat up their women," admitted Albert, "but not before us."

     "We did see a lot of things," said Allen, "but most of the drama was not for our cameras, the weird rituals with the women. Like when Cheetos or Fritos fell to the floor, the pimps would say, 'Let the ho' clean it up.'"

     American Pimp has been criticized because it doesn't show the way the pimps maltreat the prostitutes who work for them.

     "Some people have said our film glamorizes the pimp lifestyle," said Allen, conceding that "It's hard to cover them and not to show then in all their glory."

     Shouldn't their "glory" be undercut? Criticized?

     "We decided not to have an agenda," Allen answered. "We would roll the film let the pimps have their say. We let the characters, their lifestyles, dictate our instincts. Youths in America at least seem to appreciate that they have a chance to make up their own minds."

     The Hughes Brothers were asked their opinion of film festivals.

     "We came up in the video age," said Allen, "but a thing that's disgusting is a film festival that mixes in work on video. That should be for a video festival."

     Albert added a complaint: "A digital film will have a credit, ' A Film by Joe Blow.' No! It's 'A Video by Joe Blow.'... The first festival we went to was Cannes, 'Camp Hollywood,' all the assholes in one place. Then we went to Sundance and it made us love Cannes. The presentation of our film was so horrible at Sundance, that we'll never go back."

(July, 2000)


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