New York, NY – It’s a chilly, cold, rainy afternoon in New York City, and Coodie & Chike are flitting between interviews in a co-working space over Bryant Park. The air — like much of the air at the Tribeca Film Festival — is one of great excitement: the pair’s documentary film, A Kid from Coney Island, is making quite the hit at the festival, and the duo couldn’t be happier.
“It’s a blessing to be here,” Chicago native Clarence “Coodie” Simmons — the more laid-back, warm, and introverted of the pair — tells GroovyTracks. “God is in charge. He’s leading the way. I just know where we’re going.”
New Orleans native Chike Ozah — loquacious, gracious, and animated — agrees with his compatriot. “We’re definitely blessed, and it feels good to see all our hard work pay off and be so well received by our peers. I tell you. We worked hard, and we don’t take it for granted at all.”
The “Coodie & Chike” brand, as a production group, was once associated with some of the most definitive videos of modern Hip Hop. While best known for their work with Kanye West — in addition to directing “Through the Wire,” they sat in the director’s seat for Yeezy’s “Two Words” and the third version of “Jesus Walks” — they’ve also provided visuals for the likes of Lupe Fiasco (“Old School Love”), Mos Def (“Ghetto Rock”), and Erykah Badu (the controversial “Window Seat”).
But it was West — who, like Simmons, is a Chicago native — who inspired Coodie to first get in the chair to direct music videos.
“I saw what he was doing, and I said, ‘oh, I gotta get in on that!’” he said. “And then, I got to New York, and that’s where I met this guy” — he points to Chike — “and he was doing his thing, and I told him my vision. And without even thinking twice, he said, ‘okay, let’s go!’”
That fortuitous meeting led to the formation of Creative Control, the production company that shot the music videos that would, ultimately, make them famous in the Hip Hop community. But as the demand for music videos on MTV and its sister channel, VH1, died down — making way, instead, for the glut of reality shows that would come in its wake — the pair realized that they needed to adapt with the times if they wanted to survive.
“You’ve gotta hustle if you want to make it,” said Chike. “And we knew that, coming from where we come from. We stayed in the game — we just changed how it was played.”
That “change” came in 2012, the duo directed a short film called Benji, which premiered at the 2012 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival — marking the first time that the duo would make their mark there. Benji told the story of a young basketball player named Ben Wilson, who was on his way to becoming nothing short of a legend. His career, however, was cut short when he was shot and killed after an altercation in front of the Simeon Career Academy.
Critics lauded the film as a triumph, and Benji successfully helped Coodie & Chike transition from being “Hip Hop video directors” to “acclaimed film directors.” The documentary subject hit close to home for Coodie, for obvious reasons, but ultimately inspired them to push their filmmaking to the next level.
“We wanted to continue to tell real stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances,” Coodie said. “So we wanted to be careful about the next move.”
So, after a 2013 film called Good Morning — shot for American Family Insurance — and the 2016 NAACP-winning Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ for BET, the pair would set their plans in motion for what would become A Kid From Coney Island. Telling the story of basketball cipher Stephon Marbury — known as “Starbury Marbury” — the documentary film explores his humble upbringings, the pressure placed on him to become the next great NBA star after his older brothers failed to do so, and his meteoric rise to the top — all in Coodie & Chike’s authentic, almost raw, way of storytelling.
“Ultimately,” said Chike, “we wanted the audience to see that despite his extraordinary career, he really is just a kid from Coney Island.”
But, GroovyTracks asks, isn’t that like saying that Barack Obama’s just a kid from Chicago?
Coodie chuckles heartily to this question before answering. “Well, isn’t he though? He’s a kid from Chicago who changed the world. And that’s what we all are. That’s what we all can do if you have faith in God and your talent, and you work hard, and most of all, you just believe.”
A Kid From Coney Island is playing as part of the Tribeca Film Festival now.