Dreaming of a better future a young DJ confronts his family struggles in the Streets of Brooklyn.
Wheels, Paul Starkman’s award winning feature debut, was released by 1091 Pictures on September 15th, 2020 and is now available digitally (Itunes, AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Fandango, Vudu, Vimeo On Demand, Google Play, and VOD. This coming of age story follows Max, a young DJ, as he traverses new love, family influences, old habits, and financial obstacles in an attempt to nurture his dream. Wheels was shot on the streets of Brooklyn in the fall of 2016 and funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. In 2018, Wheels premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival where it was praised as “stunningly told and poignantly acted with depth and candor” and won Best Narrative Feature and The Audience award. In 2019 the film earned Best Feature at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival, Best Feature at the Lakefront Film Festival, Best Indie Film at the Arizona International Film Festival and was a finalist in the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival.
Wheels is years in the making for Starkman who first started developing the project in film school. “In the early 90’s, you could find me doing one of two things: obsessing over movies or wearing out mixtapes I recorded of my favorite NYC hip hop radio shows,” stated Starkman. “Fast forward, and I’m still excited to explore the intersection of those two passions through a film featuring my hometown Brooklyn.” After years of capturing other people pursuing their dreams while directing reality competition shows (Top Chef, Nailed It, Making It, Ink Master), the Emmy nominated director decided it was time to finally bring Wheels to life. “This is a universal story. It’s my story and the story of all artists who battle to forge on.”
Wheels follows Max, a young DJ who struggles to support himself and his grandmother by DJing parties for a neighborhood shark. With the return of his troubled brother, Terry, from prison, Max’s dreams become distant. As Max gets close with Liza, a dance studio manager, he’s inspired by her determination and finds himself at a crossroads between family obligation, the streets and pursuing his dream.
Wheels stars Arnstar as Max. Arnstar is the son of the late Kippy Dee from the Rock Steady Crew and brother of rapper Lil Mama. This is the first lead role for the dancer (WAFFLE CREW), rapper (Lite Layers) and actor (Roxanne Roxanne, WeTV’s Growing Up Hip Hop NY). Shyrley Rodriguez, most known for her role in Netflix’s The Get Down and Pacific Rim 2, stars as Liza. Joshua Boone (Premature, Network on Broadway) stars as Max’s older brother, Terry. The film also features J. Alphonse Nicholson who is best known for his performance as Lil Murda in the STARZ hit series, P-Valley.
A love letter to hip hop culture, Wheels features performances by legendary graffiti artist Lee Quinones (star of Wild Style considered on of the first Hip Hop films), Tuffy Questell (Co-Host to Ralph Mcdaniels on one of the first Hip Hop Video shows, Video Music Box), and a cameo by rapper Nyck Caution, a member of the Pro-Era Hip Hop collective. Producer and editor Neal Usatin previously cut for the Beastie Boys, working directly with Adam Yauch (MCA) for 8 years on countless videos and movies. The score is filled with classic Philly soul provided by Jamie Records (Honey and the Bees, Cliff Nobles) and classic old-school Hip Hpop tracks by Sweet G, Kurtis Blow, and Luv Bug starski provided by Fever Records, as well as an original score by Mario Grigorov. “Wheels plays on a viewer’s nostalgic sensibilities, like when a DJ mixes the old with the new and, for a brief moment, it takes you back in time,” Starkman explains. “This is why I’ve chosen to shoot the movie in black & white and score the soundtrack with a mix of music across the ages.”
Wheels was produced by Patrick Gibbons, Cheryl Wayne, Paul Starkman, and Neal Usatin. It was executive produced by Jamin O’Brien who has produced over 20 films including Eighth Grade, Chronically Metropolitan, and most recently was an Executive Producer on Dee Ree’s Netflix film The Last Thing He Wanted.
- Winner – Best Narrative Feature – Woodstock Film Festival 2018
- Winner – Audience Award – Woodstock Film Festival 2018
- Winner – Best Film – Harlem International Film Festival 2019
- Winner – Best Indie Film – Arizona International Film Festival 2019
- Winner – Best Feature – San Francisco Black Film Festival 2019
- Winner – Best Feature Film – Lakefront Film Festival 2019
- Finalist – Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival 2019
- Montreal International Black Film Festival 2019
- BENDFILM 2019
- DC Black Film Festival 2019
- The Roxbury International Film Festival 2019
- Cleveland International Film Festival 2019
- New Hope Film Festival 2019
- Langston Hughes African American Film Festival 2019
- Julien Dubuque International Film Festival 2019
- Pasadena International Film Festival 2019
- KC Film Fest International 2019
- Maryland International Film Festival 2019
- Boston International Film Festival 2019
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.