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TORONTO – If, like Ice-T, you’re used to taking center stage and performing with skill and swagger to a sea of worshipping fans, then screening a documentary in a dark auditorium at the Toronto International Film Festival can be pretty unnerving.
So it was that Ice-T and long-time manager Jorge Hinojosa brought Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, about the legendary pimp/author whose real name was Robert Beck, for a world premiere at TIFF on Saturday night.
And the music, film and TV star, who said he feeds off his head-bobbing fans when rapping, admitted he was rattled on Saturday to screen a movie years in the making for the first time to strangers.
“And I’m looking at myself,” Ice-T added, as he and other friends and admirers of Iceberg Slim like Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones and Henry Rollins were interviewed in the documentary that Hinojosa directed and financed out of his own pocket.
The reality TV star, who was accompanied by wife Coco at the post-premiere party at Maison Mercer, said he likes the decibel level from the audience applause to be louder when his concert ends than when he first comes on stage.
So Ice-T isn’t comfortable when he’s grilled by a film festival audience after the Iceberg Slim doc finishes screening.
“They’d better be clapping hard,” the rapper told The Hollywood Reporter.
But beyond the opening-night jitters, Ice-T was filled with pride debuting a film in Toronto about a black author and pimp whose 1969 book, Pimp: The Story of My Life, greatly influenced his own career and that of a host of other artists and hustlers.
Slim’s literary output before he died in 1992 included other work like Trick Baby, which was turned into a movie, Mama Black Widow, and the essay collection The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim.
The excitement over launching Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp on the weekend was shared by Hinojosa, who recalled his own inner terror before learning whether or not the first film he directed got into the prestigious Canadian festival.
After submitting the doc, Hinojosa first heard nothing from TIFF, and the self-doubt built inside. Then Hinojosa recalled seeing a message from TIFF doc programmer Thom Powers on his cell phone. “I thought, what will Thom say: I like the film, but I’ve no room in the program?,” he remembered.
Peering deep into his cell phone screen, Hinojosa then obsessed about Powers possibly getting Iceberg Slim confused with Ice-T’s earlier doc Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, and possibly wanting that film instead.
Besides The Art of Rap, Hinojosa also executive produced other Ice-T films like Urban Menace and The Wrecking Crew. Sweating the small stuff, Hinojosa rang Powers back, only to be thwarted yet again when sent through to the fest programmer’s voice mail. Eventually, Hinojosa did connect with Powers, and heard Iceberg Slim got into TIFF.
But was that the main festival, or a sideshow? “I’m thinking, am I in the Olympics or the Paralympics,” Hinojosa recounted.
When finally being assured he was booked onto the main stage and hanging up with Powers, Hinojosa remembered the hotel front desk staff where he was staying sensing his untethered emotions and breaking out into spontaneous applause.
That relief at being booked into Toronto flowed in part from the challenges of the earlier shoot for Iceberg Slim, which included capturing on camera Robert Beck’s wife, Betty Mae Beck, during her prolonged illness that preceded her death in 2009.
Hinojosa recalled talking to Betty Mae Beck while she alternately inhaled from an oxygen mask and a burning cigarette.
“I remember my cameramen warning we could combust and go up in flames,” the director recounted.
The Toronto launch of Iceberg Slim would not have been complete without Ice-T leaving Coco’s side to perform for the cheering and dancing crowd in Maison Mercier, with lyrics like “I’m So Fly in Everything I Do.”
Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp had another public screening on Sunday morning, and a third is planned for September 16, on TIFF’s closing day.
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