Film can do many wondrous things – it can unite us and divide us in equal measure, make us laugh or make us cry, help us forget or make us remember. But perhaps the greatest thing it can do, and the thing it doesn’t always get appreciation for, is its ability to shine a light upon a story that would otherwise remain unknown – giving a voice to those who would otherwise be unheard and letting us know of people/persons we would otherwise be deprived of the privilege of having knowledge of.
Without a doubt ‘Step‘ exemplifies this, introducing us to the Step team from the Baltimore Leadership School For Young Women (BLSYW) . Step, a form of competitive dance exhibition which simultaneously celebrates each group’s individual style and the unity/synchronicity of their members, is the centre of these girls lives. The film follows them in their senior year, their last chance to win the state face-off. But it’s not that simple – they’re the inaugural class of a school whose mission is to get all of their low income students into college and the pressure is on. It’s also 2015 and they’re living in the wake of a series of protests that rippled through Baltimore following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died whilst in police custody. In their daily lives, their very reality, the odds seem posed against them; they’re determined to step all over the stereotypes and obstacles in their way – and they’re going to be doing it together.
The documentary takes the approach of focusing on three of the “Lethal Ladies of BLSYW.” All three were original members of the Step group when it was formed shortly after the school opened in 2009. There’s Blessin – the founder and captain – a young woman who has star power shining out of every pour & seems to have an inexhaustible supply of self-confidence, which is soon to be revealed to be a veneer of self-protection. By her side there’s model student Cori, she’s been working as hard as she possibly can all of her academic life to compensate for the financial obstacles that could prevent her from going to college. Tayla completes the trio, an every-young-woman whose single parent mother is determined to stop history repeating itself.
Lipitz’s documentary really excels as it feels like we truly know these young women, we quickly come to care for them – we worry about them when life throws out its inevitable challenges and celebrate with them when successes come, both in personal and professional form. We laugh alongside them and cry alongside them too – to the extent in both cases that viewers will leave the cinema feeling simultaneously drained yet truly exhilarated also.
The documentary opens at the start of their final academic year and the introduction of their new coach, Gari McIntyre. She, and the other staff members epitomise the school’s ethos of never-giving-up and never-giving-in. They are quite simply, ‘Striving to get what you need to get.’ It’s a mindset which is almost-contagious for the viewer as we see every single participant apply it to every single part of their lives. Then there’s the Step routines themselves which are a truly breath-taking sight to behold. All of their individual doubts, worries and concerns are put to one side to allow them to become ‘magic wands in human form’. They’re making music with their bodies that has a message and a purpose.
Step isn’t just a documentary, it’s an empowering and rapturous celebration.
Dir: Amanda Lipitz
Featuring: Paula Dofat, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon, Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon
Prd: Steven Cantor, Amanda Lipitz
DOP: Casey Regan
Music: Laura Karpman, Raphael Saadiq.
Run time: 83 minutes
Step is screening UK cinemas from Friday the 11th August.