socalled

A scene from The SoCalled Movie. (Virgile Ittah/NFB)

The National Film Board is defending a strategy of launching a documentary about a Montreal hip-hop musician on an internet pay-per-view channel available only in the U.S.

The SoCalled Movie, about a Montrealer who blends klezmer and hip hop, has already been available for two months on a new You Tube Pay Per View website.

In 2007, Josh Dolgin, the musician at the centre of the movie, made a video for his song You Are Never Alone that became a YouTube hit. The video featured a life-like Dolgin with a mechanical head that comes apart.

"It's been seen by almost 2.5 million people, so YouTube people knew about me and they liked my stuff," he told CBC News.

Earlier this year, YouTube struck a deal with the National Film Board for The SoCalled Movie and offered it for a 99 cent fee to U.S. internet viewers.

Some Canadians posted angry messages on the site, upset that only Americans could access it.

Film board head Tom Perlmutter defended the release strategy, saying it's important to pioneer ways to increase audiences for Canadian films, even if Canadians can't see them first.

"If we feel it's going to generate the kinds of revenues that we need in order to be able to finance the productions, the programming, the accessibility to Canadians of the work that is fundamental to our country, then yes, we will do that," Perlmutter told CBC News.

He admits this experiment was not a financial success — only 400 people paid the fee to view the movie. About 200,000 saw it free on the YouTube channel.

Now The SoCalled Movie is opening in theatres in several cities across Canada, beginning this week in Quebec.  

Dolgin said he hopes Canadians will take advantage of this opportunity to see the film.

"It's funky, it's fun, it's sad, it's based on East European tunes, there's salsa, piano tunes in it, funk, reggae, dance hall," he said of his unusual blend of music.

The Montrealer discovered klezmer when he was searching for music samples for hip-hop artists, including himself.

"When I went to McGill [University], I started really hard core collecting records, going to the Salvation Army, people's basements, the garbage, people were throwing out records," he recalled.

Dolgin mixes samples from an eclectic range of records, slowing them down or speeding them up to create intriguing new sounds with music made decades apart in different parts of the world. 

Then he builds on that with live performances — sometimes playing with virtuoso musicians in venues such as Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre.

With files from CBC's Margo Kelly