Bruk Out – Dancehall Queen documentary

As part of the True Jamaican Dancehall dance festival, BRUK OUT will be screening in Melbourne on Tuesday 7th Feb 2017 at Nova Cinema in Carlton. The film has been in production since 2014, and we are really excited to be able to do a preview screening of the film before it hits the international festival circuit. On the night there will be a cultural presentation by the amazing and inspiring Jamaican dancer Latonya Style from DanceJa and a Q&A after the screening with dancers Latonya Style & Kimiko Versatile from Jamaica and Kitty Cat from Australia.

To find out some more info about the production, i caught up with its director Cori McKenna….

ILD: Ok So First up whats your production/directing background?
CM: I’ve been working in the Film/TV business for over a decade, since UCLA film school. I work mostly in comedy and documentary genres…you can check out my bio below…

ILD: How did you come across the dancehall queen story?
CM: I live in a Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn, and every summer I see the dancing at the West Indies Day Parade. I got fascinated and started to do research on where the dances came from and the meaning behind them.

ILD: What was it that attracted you to making a documentary about global Dancehall Queens?

CM: I think people always assume that women dancing provocatively has one particular meaning, and the women often become objects. I wanted to give these women a voice to explain why they love dancehall, in hopes that they could bring a new perspective to the dance most people don’t get to see. Mainly, the body positivity and community it cultivates, not just the daggering and the madness of it.

ILD: Why did you call the film Bruk Out?
CM: To me, this movie is all about women finding their freedom. I used Bruk Out! – meaning to break free or get crazy on the dance floor – as a way to remind people that at the end of the day, these women need those moments of pure self-expression to find their freedom.

ILD: Was there anything you were surprised to discover while making the film?
CM: I always assumed that there would be a lot of in-fighting among the queens, but this wasn’t the case. The women are generally very supportive and loving with one another – it was more of a positive global community than I expected.

ILD: I find that dancehall as a genre, but especially Dancehall Queen, is quite misunderstood.
From what you experienced how would you describe what Dancehall Queen means to Jamaicans? and to the women from around the world who partake in the competition and the culture?

CM: I think that even some women think of Dancehall Queen style as a “lesser” style of dance. That somehow the “male” dances are the priority or the “real” dancehall, and that dancehall queen style isn’t refined or respectable. But I think most Jamaicans respect Dancehall Queens because they are the women that represent power, individualism, and freedom. They see them as fashion icons, innovators, and general bad-asses. I think that’s why the title of DHQ is so appealing to women around the world. Every women wants to come out and say “this is me, I’m not afraid.” And for a few moments at those parties, Dancehall Queens transcend the drudgery of daily life and they’re truly empowered to “fuck up” the dance floor. They’re in control.

ILD: How would you describe what dance means to dancehall?

CM: I think the dancers and artists drive each other, because they both want to come together and celebrate their culture. They give each other respect, and that’s what cultivates and grows the community. I’m always surprised how intimate the culture is – through social media dancers can send new moves to artist, who can write off of them, and vice versa. It’s really raw and honest and immediate.

ILD: How did you find working within the dancehall community in Jamaica? You have got interviews with a lot of prominent artists from the dancehall scene. Was it hard to get access to these dancehall stars?
CM: I was lucky enough to work with Jay Will, who was the driving force behind all of those insider connections. I would’ve been lost without the help of Jamaicans who have worked in this business for decades.

ILD: You cover a lot of miles following the different dancers around in America, Europe and Jamaica. How were you able to fund the production?

CM: My team and I used Kickstarter to raise the bulk of the money, and then I funded the rest out of pocket, since I was working at HBO at the time. It was a very busy, very expensive time!

ILD: How did you select which international dancers to follow?
CM: I wanted to focus on the Jamaican dancers at the core of International Dancehall Queen, because I knew they were “the best” in terms of dancing. They also turned out to have a very typical Jamaican story, which I think is important for people to see. That is, they are just working towards helping their family have a better life, and dancehall is a way for them do that. The foreign women I chose because they had an interesting perspective on dancehall, and they are totally dedicated to being immersed in this scene. They’re also very helpful in making outsiders understand the scene, since they’re also coming in from the outside.

ILD: The dancers let you right into their lives. Some of the stories were very moving , how did you approach going into personal and private space with these women?
CM: I wanted them to know that I respected their story, and that I wasn’t judging them. I told them I just wanted to show how they’re human, and complicated, and that they deserve to be more than objects. And also that telling their stories might help other women feel less alone, because they’ll be able to see that these powerful women also have pain in their lives.

ILD: So whats up next on your project list?
CM: I’m developing a few ideas for TV series, and hopefully shooting a short documentary about a close family friend – a country western musician who’s been touring for decades, and the intensity of that lifestyle for a single woman.

ILD: And finally how would you sum up a dancehall queen in 5 words or less?

CM: Bold, independent, honest, strong, irreverent.

Cori McKenna is a documentary filmmaker based in New York. BRUK OUT! is her debut feature documentary. Formerly the Editor of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, she has gone on to direct Refinery 29’s new documentary series What We Teach Girls. She has edited dozens of TV shows and documentaries, including One Direction – This is Us (Sony), Morgan Spurlock Inside Man (CNN), The Whitest Kids U’Know (IFC), and The Night of Too Many Stars (Comedy Central). Her passion is connecting people and ideas through documentary storytelling.

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