In her feature length debut Métis/Algonquin filmmaker and actress Michelle Latimer turns her lens towards a side of Toronto life that few actually see. Alias is a film that explores the world of street rap which has become synonymous with shootings and drugs in the local media. Latimer’s film cuts through the political jargon that populates talk radio and nightly newscasts and talks to those who are striving to make their hip hop dreams a reality. Latimer provides an honest, and at times sad, look at how urban poverty and street rap are on a continuous loop with no signs of stopping.

The film follows five individuals who cover the gambit on the Toronto rap scene. Alkatraz, Trench, and Alias Donmillion are rappers who are each at various stages of their musical careers. Alkatraz is a father who tries to juggle his responsibilities as a parent with his desire to continue making music. Trench is the “dreamer” who is determined to make it big on the rap scene, even if it means going to Europe to make it happen. While Alias Donmillion, the most successful of the three, is trying to reclaim past glory after being arrested for discharging a firearm in a crowded area. Latimer also highlights two other facets that are essential to hip hop music, the singers and the producers. Keon Love is an aspiring singer/rapper and single mother who represents the female voice in a male dominated industry. Lastly there is Knia, a music producer who is also aspiring to get his law degree while raising his daughter and organizing local showcases to help promote the street rap talent in the city.

Alias paints a picture of a systemic problem of hopelessness in urban neighbourhoods. In one scene Alkatraz points out that hustling (selling drugs), playing ball, and music are the only options for most youth. He later states that “black people have been the first at being last for a very long time.” Alkatraz’s sentiments can be felt with the other individuals as well. Each person is not only aware of how vital rap is to changing their current status, but also how limited the window is to achieve their goals. Especially considering that they all come from areas where people are killed for petty things like not showing respect when walking on the sidewalk.

The intriguing thing about this is that is makes those who have children even more aware of the legacy they will leave. Alias does a fantastic job of showing the artists, especially the males, in a rather positive light when it comes to parenting. This is an image that is rarely captured in mainstream media. To highlight the more human side of the individuals, Latimer is quick to breakdown the façade that rap artists tend to portray in most rap videos. In one of the film’s lighter moments, Latimer goes behind the scenes of the Alkatraz “Superstar Love” video shoot to show his disappointment when he cannot even get the models or his own friends to show up to the shoot on time. This is a stark contrast from the life of control and excess that the music video wants to convey.

Alias is a solid film that does not attempt to find any solutions. Latimer skillfully shines a light on a section of the Toronto population that is frequently marginalized by society. Alias is a gripping portrait of desperation that flows within both poverty and urban music.

Today at 4:30 PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox