By Stephen Weir
It took four years and a worldwide Kickstarter project for the Jamaica Dance Hall documentary Bruk Out to break out in Toronto. On Friday night the movie was given its Canadian premiere to a wildly cheering audience at the downtown Royal Cinema.
Bruk Out starts with men and women dancing in the streets and steamy dance halls of Kingston, Jamaica with reckless abandon. Men and women flaunt their sexuality, on the dance floor, in the streets of Kingston and even on the hoods of slow moving cars. Wining? That is too tame for Dance Hall. This is where the term “daggering ” was born.
The camera rolls with a clubber’s point of view of the hot, hot dancing, while notable dancehall artists, including Beenie Man and Elephant Man, explain how the music and dancing feed off each other.
The 69-minute documentary moves from the Jamaican ghetto to America, Poland and Spain, following six women with no connection to the Kingston club scene. They are rehearsing non-stop as they get ready to blow their life savings and compete for Jamaica’s 2014 Million Dollar (JA) Dance Hall Queen competition.
These are women obsessed with the vibrant underbelly of Jamaican dance. It leads them to conquer body issues, poverty, domestic abuse and the struggles of being a single mother, all while keeping their eyes on winning the biggest prize in Dancehall.
“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,” explains director Cori Wapnowska.
Wapnowska, a white American moviemaker, says she first learned about Jamaican dance while living in New York. “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. “
Four years after the outdoor Dance Hall Queen competition was held, Wapnowska’s heavily subtitled film finally began to be shown at film festivals in Europe, the Caribbean, America -and now Canada. Friday’s showing was organized by the Toronto- based Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF)
The CTFF went head-to-head with the cross-town sixth annual Toronto Black Film Festival. On the same night the Black Film Festival was screening four films in two downtown theatres and had a musical performance by Jamaica’s Warrior Love Band. For Bruk Out, every single one of the Royal Cinema’s 390 seats was taken.
One of the best things about the Friday night screening of Bruk Out was Bee Quammie’s introduction of the film. The Toronto-based film journalist and popular cultural spokesperson told the audience that Bruk Out is all about the empowerment of the Dance Hall movement in Jamaica (and around the world).
“I really enjoyed the film,” said Bee Quammie. “I loved the expanse of emotion – I laughed, I cheered, I felt proud, I was moved to tears – and feel like it offered a great window through which we could see the motivations of the women and what made them passionate about dancehall. I definitely think it’s a film that more people need to see, especially with the popularity of Jamaican culture around the world.”
JAHNOIASTAGE.JPG – from the movie Bruk Out. Dance Hall Queen competitor shows her moves.