The Velvet Light Trap 53 (2004) 59-65
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An Interview with Rachel Raimist
Q: Describe the process you underwent while making Nobody Knows My Name. Include details about finding funding, contacting your subjects, encountering difficulties, etc.
A: The film was made as my thesis project for my M.F.A. in directing at UCLA Film School. I received a small thesis award, but primarily I funded the film with a credit card. Although most people in film school as well as in the hip-hop community couldn't understand my vision for the documentary or my filming women no one had heard of, I believed in the project, so I made the film. The results have been overwhelming. Here's some of my story, how I got into hip-hop, hip-hop films, and Nobody.
I was born and raised in New York. I was basically a suburban latchkey kid. I used to walk home from school and open the door with the key that hung on a shoelace around my neck. I would run in and turn on MTV to do my homework. At that time, Yo MTV Raps! was on at three o'clock. I knew the words to everything they played on Yo. I was always into music and loved the beats of rap. My first boyfriend in first grade was a b-boy who always sported a headband and would break on cardboard at recess.
It wasn't until high school that I picked up a video camera. At the time New York State had a program that introduced video technology into some high schools. I was blessed to be at Middletown High School, a school that had a multicamera TV studio and editing system in the library's media center. I took a class called "Electronic English" that pretty much changed the course of the rest of my life. My teacher, Fred Isseks, was a really open-minded and enthusiastic person. Regardless of what we made in class, he was excited and interested in our work. We shot footage around school and made rap videos in the hallways, but what got me really involved was a project about corruption in the local government. Fred, myself, and a few other students produced a documentary called Garbage, Gangsters, and Greed. We were interviewed by CBS 60 Minutes and a slew of newspapers. On my nineteenth birthday they published a picture of me in the Village Voice holding a big VHS camera that my dad gave me as a birthday gift. It was at that moment that I realized all I needed was a cheap camera and my creativity to tell stories that could reach people. It was that day that I realized the power of a video camera and a good story.
I moved to Los Angeles in '93 to go to UCLA Film School. At that time I kept what I called my "hip-hop life" and my "film life" separate. I had a party at my house in '94; my old high school prom date, a party DJ, had moved to Cali from New York, and I asked him to spin at my party. He left his crates to pick up the next day. When he came to pick up his equipment he brought a shy, local club DJ named Minus. I didn't know it then, but that was the true beginning of making Nobody Knows My Name.
Minus and I have been together for the better part of the past nine years. In the L.A. hip-hop scene I was known as "Minus's girl." I was like, "Hi, I'm Rachel, and yes, Minus's girl, but I do shit too!" We would throw clubs and parties, he would DJ, and I would film and take pictures. I quickly became known as "the camera girl." From there I started shooting more and more [End Page 59] hip-hop shows. I started shooting Nobody at a Wake Up Show concert in '96. The crowd was packed for a six-hour concert celebrating Wake Up...