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Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood

Music Video Director Chris Robinson Brings His Feature Debut to His Charm City Home

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HOMEBOY: Maryland filmmaker Chris Robinson makes his big-screen bid with the dirty-south ATL.

By Jason Torres | Posted 3/29/2006

“It’s good to come home, y’know?” says Chris Robinson, the Maryland-born music video director at the very tail end of an exhausting evening at Arundel Mills’ Muvico Egyptian multiplex. The evening ends up more like a homecoming party than a movie premiere, and it’s just what Robinson wanted.

“So much of it started here for me,” the worn-out Robinson says. “I started the dream here. A lot of people supported me. So to be able to come home with a feature film and come to a theater, and have a time like this, it was nice.”

On Thursday, March 23, the thumpity-thump of T.I.’s music can be felt at the popcorn counter as local sponsors 92Q and Downtown Locker Room transform Muvico into an all-out party complete with DJs, games, and prizes. As the DJs wind down their noisy set and Robinson holds the mic, it’s if he was hanging out at a family cookout. The movie itself, which opens March 31, is almost a secondary detail. The crowd is mainly here to show support.

“I wanna thank everyone for being here tonight,” Robinson says as the elbow-to-elbow crowd cheers him on. “I want to thank my mother for not making me take the postal exam.”

There is such love in the room that you feel like a fly on the wall at the party for the first kid in the family to graduate college, as if teary-eyed aunts and cousins kept clapping and pointing in a “That’s our boy” fervor. And then the lights dim, ATL starts, and it becomes clear why Robinson is one of the more sought-after video directors around right now.

The movie’s opening credits set an energetic and stylish tone, revealing Robinson’s helluva eye. A tricked-out car drives slow enough to offer a tour of the gritty city landscape, closeups of Atlanta’s people and landmarks, through the refection of a shiny car rim. And before the wallop of the bass line for Ludacris’ “Georgia” fades out, Robinson draws a picture of Atlanta as a place that has a more going on than gold teeth. Somehow the subtle visual nuances of the sequence are lost on the crowd that came just to hang with “Chris”: By the time directed by chris robinson splashes across the giant screen, whoops and cheers and “yeeeahhs” could probably be heard all the way to the parking lot.

After the movie, as Robinson makes a quick stop at the adjoining after-party and heads over to a photo shoot, the walk forces him to pause nearly every five feet to greet another friend ready to lavish him with congratulations. It’s clear Baltimore is still very much a part of the man. The trip from a young boy who liked to play with cameras to an MTV veteran with more than 150 music videos under his belt couldn’t have been easy, and Robinson impresses that he hasn’t lost touch with “home.”

“As much of a good day it was for me, I think it was a good day for my friends and family—it’s more like we did it,” he says. “I’ve been at this [filmmaking] for a long time. I did all my first video shoots in Baltimore, from Hue Lords, to Perfect Combination, Norm Skola. I worked with all those cats. I started my whole journey here in Baltimore. It feels like somebody from the neighborhood did something positive and did something good, so it’s a beautiful night”

Robinson feels that his past work with Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and others has been a rehearsal for his big-screen debut, so he didn’t have any jitters when the time came. “It’s like doing homework,” he says. “All the little four-minute videos I did prepared me for this day. I’ve been through it all as far as music videos go, from trying to prep them, tell a story, work with the actors—you just put all that together—and when it comes down to shooting a movie, I just felt prepared.”

At the very end of the night, the road-weary favorite son signs a few posters for some area middle schools. As he leans on the table to write, he appears to be resting more than writing. The whirlwind evening is almost over, at which point Robinson looks up and contemplates the feeling of being in the theater that night, having all his friends and family show up, and being a man now signing autographs in the city he once called home.

“It’s a little bugged out,” he says. “It feels good. It feels like accomplishing something, y’know? The movie’s going all over the United States, but this is the first place I wanted to come. I wanted to come home and celebrate it, because this is genuine, y’know? Filmmaking is a business, and we’re gonna have a big premiere in L.A., red carpet and all that. But for me it was important to come home because giving the love back to my friends and family who supported me is what was most important.”

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