"From the very beginning, we wanted Tupac to tell his story in his own words," says Lauren Lazin, director of a new documentary about Tupac Shakur, the American rap star who was killed in September 1996.
"There have been other films and a lot of stories written about Tupac, with other people telling his story for him, and my feeling has always been that nobody can talk about Tupac better than Tupac. He doesn't need an interpreter."
In the MTV film "Tupac: Resurrection," being released by Paramount Studios on Friday, Shakur walks the viewer through his life and career, analyzing his music, his errors, and providing the coda for his brief and tumultuous life.
The project began seven years ago when Shakur's mother, Afeni, formed Amaru Entertainment Inc. to preserve her son's music and legacy.
"After the death of my son, lots of people came to us asking if they could do a feature film about Tupac," Afeni Shakur recalled recently.
"I don't know anything about Hollywood. But there was a man I knew and trusted. He was like a mentor to my son, and my son loved him. So the first person that I got in touch with was [producer] Preston Holmes."
Holmes' credits include Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and Mario and Melvin Van Peebles' "Panther," as well as the two movies that bracketed Shakur's career -- "Juice" and "Gridlock'd." Afeni Shakur's friendship with Holmes went back to the 1970s in New York, where she was a member of the Black Panther Party.
At the time of Afeni Shakur's 1996 call, Holmes was president of Russell Simmons' Def Pictures.
"I was actually in the process of trying to do an overall development deal with Tupac" at the time of his death, Holmes said.
"Afeni was inundated with requests from various people who were interested in doing all kinds of feature-film and television projects with an actor portraying her son.
"One of my problems was, I couldn't imagine who could play this young man in a movie and bring to it anything like the magic I thought he embodied in life and on the screen."
In 1999, MTV Books published "The Rose That Grew From Concrete," a posthumous collection of Shakur's poetry, Holmes recalled.
"When MTV heard that Afeni was interested in doing a documentary, they suggested not just that they would be interested in doing the film, but they would be interested in doing the documentary for a theatrical release," he said. "My thought was this is the best of all possible worlds."
The film will open in 800 theaters nationwide, an unusually wide release for a documentary.
Lazin first become aware of Shakur while working on an Emmy-nominated hip-hop film for MTV, "Journey of Dr. Dre."
"I had never met Tupac, but in the documentary I did on Dr. Dre, I remembered that all the footage that Tupac was in, it was like he was jumping off the screen," Lazin recalled. "He was by far the most interesting, compelling person in that world."
After meeting with Afeni Shakur, Holmes and Amaru producer Karolyn Ali, Lazin said, "From our very first meetings, we realized we were completely in sync in how we wanted to tell this story."
Shakur at first did not believe there was enough audio footage to articulate the sweep of her son's complex life and his philosophy: "I couldn't see how we could keep his voice going through the entire film. I didn't want other people speaking for him, but how could we do it?"
Ali assured her that Tupac had left more than enough material to narrate the story.
"We had culled from every corner of the world, every video, every film, every interview, every audiocassette we could amass and reviewed them all," Ali said. "It is a given that Tupac was entertaining, but our film had to project how evocative, enigmatic and enlightened he was. In the film we made, we tried to show how Tupac was always evolving, always going back inside, reevaluating and redefining who he was, what his thoughts were and what he wanted to share with people."
Noted Lazin, "We pulled from sources that include interviews that he did for television, for print, for radio, depositions that he gave in court. The great thing about Tupac is he never gave a bad interview. Anybody that he talked to, he spoke honestly, from the heart.
"The more I began to just listen to him and to hear his philosophy, the more I realized this is a unique and original voice, as important a voice as [black activist Eldridge Cleaver's] 'Soul on Ice' or 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X.' "
One month before the documentary's premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Lazin, Holmes and Ali showed a rough cut of it to Afeni Shakur.
"They were all scared that I was not going to like it, because I had not seen it," Shakur said.
"I sat down and watched it, and I was quiet and breathless. I could not believe that we had actually done such a remarkable job. I prayed that my generation would watch it and stop acting as though Tupac [wasn't theirs]. Tupac is one of ours in the truest sense, and we need to claim him."