Half a Soulja (Urban Casualties)
TYPE: Documentary Feature
Byron Breeze, Jr., born without legs or complete hands, is determined to “be somebody” and in the process challenges society to see his wholeness and not just his disability.
Bryon Breeze, Jr., “Soulja,” born without legs and with only a thumb on each hand, is the subject of the full-length documentary, Half a Soulja. Filmmakers follow him on a decade-long journey to realize his hopes and dreams.
Journalist Kathleen Kiley discovered Soulja on a mid-town Manhattan corner that he calls "the office," where he panhandles to supplement his meager disability payments. Through Soulja, she discovers the Urban Casualties, his group of disabled rappers. All but Soulja are victims of an accident or violence: P-Funk paralyzed in a car wreck, Cookie Monsta’ shot for the gold chain around his neck and Wild Child stabbed in a club for dancing with the wrong girl.
Soulja wants to record the Casualties’ music in a professional studio because he believes their music is a way out of poverty. But the Casualties’ financial, logistical and physical challenges prove nearly insurmountable. Soulja also has his own problems: he loses his housing and lives in his van for several months. He also loses faith in his dream, but an “office” connection persuades him to see motivational guru Tony Robbins. He decides to take the long journey to Atlanta to see Mr. Robbins and on the way he stops to visit his sister who is dying of cancer. His sister, Lisa, dies before he reaches Atlanta. At the “Unleash the Power” conference he is unexpectedly called on stage where Mr. Robbins promises to give him money to produce his music and a promise to meet music producer Quincy Jones.
At the Robbins conference Soulja also meets businessman Steve Drewes, and their friendship leads them to compete in a triathlon together, along with Steve’s friend Susie Stark Christianson, a Marine who helps train Soulja. Soulja becomes the first double amputee (even though he was born without complete limbs) to complete the New York City triathlon.??
After the triathlon, Soulja feels empowered and pushes forward to bring the Urban Casualties together for a recording session in a professional studio. With music in hand, Soulja is now seeking that promised meeting with Quincy Jones.
In the meantime, Soulja is speaking to students to encourage them to go after their dreams and has set up a non-profit with a retired New York City detective Joe Labella to mentor kids falling through the cracks. The fledging non-profit is called “1 Street at a Time.”
Ten years ago, when I began working in mid-town Manhattan, I noticed a young man sitting against a building with a cup in front of him. My first reaction was shock, and I wondered what would happen to someone with his disabilities. My curiosity, combined with Soulja’s outgoing nature, allowed me to start a conversation. He opened up the door, bit by bit, so I could discover what his life was about.
It's been an amazing story and an amazing ride.
Kathleen Kiley - Director, Co-producer
Kathleen Kiley has been a journalist for over 20 years; for the past 10 years she had been following Byron “Soulja” Breeze Jr.’s story.
She met Soulja while studying new media at New York University’s ITP graduate program, a nationally recognized incubator for digital media, multimedia and telecommunications. Inspired by (ITP Chair) Red Burns’ innovate approach to using technology, Kathleen decided to tell Soulja’s story with the new story-telling techniques she was learning at ITP.
Until then, Kathleen’s background was in print journalism. She has written on a variety of topics, from Botox parties for The New York Times to the street food wars in Connecticut for National Public Radio (NPR). This is her first documentary. She wrote the screenplay for the feature film Isn’t It Delicious, produced and directed by Michael Patrick Kelly.
Michael Patrick Kelly - Producer
Michael Patrick Kelly is founder of Aquapio Films Ltd. He is the director and producer of the feature film Isn’t It Delicious, staring Kathleen Chalfant, Keir Dullea and Alice Ripley, currently in the process of distribution. Isn’t It Delicious has won several film festival awards.
His other work includes the documentary film “Operation Lysistrata,” which captures the drama leading up to the imminent preemptive war on Iraq and provides an intimate behind-the-scenes look at how two women transform their individual aspirations for peace into a global movement. He recently completed a documentary about the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the economic aftermath for German TV called
“Behind the Wall.”
His short films, “The Payoff” and “Only Joking” were Official Selections at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, as well as the Coney Island Film Festival. Only Joking was a finalist at the Peach City Short Film Festival, and winner of the Dragon*Con Comedy Film Festival.
Michel Negroponte - Editorial Consultant
Michel Negroponte is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker with such directing credits as "Space Coast," "Silver Valley," "Jupiter's Wife", "No Accident," "W.I.S.O.R." and "The Sightseer". His last feature length documentary, "Methadonia", premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2005 and aired on HBO.
In 1995, "Jupiter's Wife" was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance
Film Festival and the Grand Prize for Best Feature Documentary at the
Vancouver Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film was also awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Documentary.
Originally shot on small format video, it premiered on HBO/Cinemax before getting a nationwide 35 mm theatrical release.
He has worked in a producing capacity on films including "Bookwars" by Jason Rosette, "Fastpitch" by Jeremy Spear, the Academy Award-nominated "Children Underground" by Edet Belzberg, and "Manhattan, Kansas" by Tara Wray. In 2007, he produced "Orthodox Stance", a feature documentary directed by Jason Hutt about a young religious boxer named Dmitry Salita.
Michel Negroponte has also taught in the graduate and undergraduate film
programs at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and at Temple
University. He also helped to create the new graduate program in documentary filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in NYC where he is also a faculty member.
His current film, "I'm Dangerous with Love" premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest in Sheffield, England in November 2009, and won a Special Mention from the International Jury and was selected as one the "Best of the Fest".
Barbara Bryce Morris - Producer
Barbara Bryce Morris is a former film scholar whose work has been awarded a Fulbright fellowship and grants from the governments of Spain and Argentina. She is the co-founder of an MFA writing program at Parsons the New School for Design, where she works with digital designers, game designers, and filmmakers.
She is Associate Producer of “Finding the First Song,” a documentary film in pre-production. She has been involved as one of the producers of the Soulja project since first meeting him on the street in 2001.
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