The 9:30 Club turned 25 on May 29—which makes it just a few years younger than Tarik Dahir and Jeff Gaul, the 32-year-old first-time feature makers who just completed 930 F Street, a documentary about the club’s 15-year run at that downtown address.
The two longtime friends frequented the venue from an early age—Dahir was “about 12” when he first went, accompanied by his older brother; Gaul was “probably 15 or 16”—but their film didn’t end up being about the club as they remembered it.
Gaul made a point of including members of Lucy Brown, “the band that I probably saw the most. When I was in high school they were the coolest thing, as far as I was concerned.” But there’s no mention of the Connells, the first group Dahir saw at 9:30, or many other out-of-town acts. Instead, the film concentrates on locals, emphasizing harDCore bands.
“We focused on that partially because that’s the footage that we got, and partially because that’s what’s most well-known,” Gaul says. “We [had done a lot more] stuff with go-go, but it just didn’t fit into the movie that we ended up making.”
One complication, he recalls, is “that a lot of the footage that we thought would exist doesn’t. I remember going to the 9:30 and seeing the bands on the monitors and just assuming that they were taping it, but apparently that wasn’t always the case.
“We had a lot of people talking about Bad Brains, and we really wanted to have a bigger section about them,” he continues, “but we couldn’t find the footage.”
Ultimately, the filmmakers agree, the narrative defined itself. “What came out in the interviews is what formulated the main topics of the movie,” Gaul says of the finished project, which includes sections on the club’s notorious smell and its “hairy neighborhood.” (That a predominantly African-American shopping district would be considered so threatening reflects the suburban outlook of the many club patrons who came downtown only to go to 9:30 or d.c. space.)
Original co-owner Dody DiSanto is the only person interviewed in the documentary who’s connected to the club’s earliest days, and often social and even musical context is scant in the film. “The first cut we did had a lot more historical background,” Gaul notes, “but it ran long, and we thought it dragged in places.”
Ultimately, the filmmakers trimmed 930 F Street to just under 90 minutes and decided not to use narration to fill any gaps. “We bounced back and forth” on the latter decision, Gaul says. “We couldn’t get ahold of anyone we thought would be appropriate as a narrator.”
Gaul, a graphic designer, and Dahir, who’s in software, worked on the project for about two-and-a-half years, spending about $10,000 of their own cash. They saved money, Dahir explains, by borrowing “cameras from friends. And we edited the whole thing on Jeff’s laptop, so there weren’t a lot of post-production costs.”
The film will have its official premiere Sunday, June 19, at the Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, but it may have already faced its most demanding audience: the crowd at the 25th-anniversary show for the club, now at 815 V St. NW. The old-timers at that event should have appreciated one of the revelations Dahir and Gaul had while making the movie. “What I found out,” says Gaul, “was that a lot of the people, more than the shows, remember the other people.”
930 F Street screens at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 19, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. For more information, call (866) 758-7327.