filmmaker Lotfy Nathan
has spent the last four years working on a documentary about the 12 O'Clock Boys, Baltimore's urban dirt bike riders.
12 O'Clock Boys
is finally finished and premieres this week at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Full of stunning-seriously breathtaking-footage and strong characters,
12 O'Clock Boys
has the potential to represent Baltimore in the same way as T
or the films of John Waters, and to prompt serious debate within the city itself. We caught up with Nathan as he put the final touches on the movie.
City Paper: How did you get interested in following the 12 O'Clock Boys and how did you first get in contact with them? I imagine that could be tricky.
Lotfy Nathan: I started out as a real amateur and thought that I would try to make a documentary more about trying to find the group, not expecting to be engaging with them so personally and asked around on the streets of Baltimore where the riders congregate. I showed up to Druid Hill Park with a camera in 2008 and found that they were very receptive to being filmed. In fact, they were all about it. And then I found a sort of veteran rider who was able to take me in the midst of the group on Sundays, when they ride. The next thing I knew, I was getting this great action material and very dynamic coverage of the group [while] riding with them in a truck.
CP: It seems like, as you kept filming and started editing the film, that some clear stories really emerged, focusing on the kid who really wants to be part of the group.
LN: I was gathering a lot of dynamic action coverage, but I didn't want to make purely a subculture film, which I think would have been limited as a movie. I met Pug in 2010 as I was fishing for material and [was] very open-minded about how the story would go-also at a loss, to be honest. But when I met Pug, I saw immediately that he would be a point of entry, so I stuck with him. More importantly than just showing the functions of the group, the ritual and the culture, is showing why it exists. Through the eyes of a young boy aspiring to join the group, growing up in the environment he is, that really speaks to why it happens.
CP: And why does it happen?
LN: I see it was a way of escape. It's a way of mentorship for a lot of kids who don't necessarily have or see alternatives, [who] are obviously looking for something to adhere to and some kind of institution-something to aspire to. It's conflicted, obviously, but in a lot of situations in Baltimore, it seems like the lesser of two evils. Pug is an underdog. He's trying to be a rider. It's not about showing the best. It's about showing who wants to get there. Which makes for an even deeper character.
CP: Do you know when it will premiere in Baltimore?
LN: That remains to be seen. Given the feedback I've gotten, it is obviously a controversial issue in Baltimore. Some people see it as a celebration and some see it as a disaster. It's not a film about the arguments around the bikes. It's not an issue film, as many documentaries are. It's more about an inside glimpse. It's more about a story.
[Editor's Note: Here's City Paper's 2003 profile of the 12 O'Clock Boys