How She Move (2008) dir. Ian Iqbal Rashid
Starring: Ingrid Gaynor, Tre Armstrong, Cle Bennett, Dwain Murphy
"How She Move" is a special film. There’s been no other film like it made in a Canada. Director Ian Iqbal Rashid takes a familiar story of a depressed youth who finds her joie de vivre in competitive dance and mashes it with some European social realism to make a unique and crowd-pleasing genre film.
The film begins introducing its humble hero Pam (Ingrid Gaynor), whose sister has just died from a drug overdose and is forced to return from her fancy private school to her lowly urban Toronto public school. It's a humiliating experience for her having to face her old school mates again whom she thought she'd left behind forever. With Pam back to square one, she seeks to rebuild back her career, her relationship with her family and her self-esteem.
After an altercation with school rival and tough girl Michelle (Tre Armstrong), she's forced to team up with her as a tutor. After they settle their differences Michelle brings Pam into her world of competitive urban step dancing. Pam joins with an all male crew badly in need of a creative kick to jump start their routines. In a male-dominated macho world Pam struggles to fit in, but eventually proves herself worthy. Unfortunately her disapproving mother is kept out of the loop until the final dance competition in Detroit. Pam uses the power of dance to reunite with her mother and help heal her family's personal pain.
Sounds like the stuff of every musical or triumphant high school film ever made. And so what makes "How She Move" distinct is Ian Iqbal Rashid's inspired direction. This can be boiled down to three key creative choices:
The most important element of the equation is the cinematography. Relative newcomer Andre Pienaar shoots the film on good old fashioned 16mm celluloid film. From the first grainy frame, handheld with documentary-like intimacy the film instantly gets its street cred. Rashid appears to be inspired by the new wave of European social realist films, ie "L'Enfant" and "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days." But when the film requires it, the Pienaar glosses it up for an ultraslick music video worthy final dance competition.
Another key to success is setting its authentic urban environment – clichéd cinematic crutches about urban black communities which plagued other dance/step films are tossed out and rebooted with refreshing realism. Machoness is met with dance. No guns are popped, no knives or fists drawn. The film establishes believable conflict with words, attitude, posturing and dance battles. Few films of its kind – Hollywood or Canada - have even tried to leave the all-important handgun on the cutting room floor.
The third key creative inspiration is its cast of unknowns. Canadian cinema is a relatively small industry, yet Rashid and his casting director have found a full cast of fresh yet talented faces. In fact it’s a miracle to find such a high profile Canadian film cast with completely unknown actors, especially with its relatively small pool of black Canadian actors.
“How She Move” is not perfect though either. It sits at just over 80mins and it could have used another 10mins to flesh out its various character subplots. Pam’s scholastic troubles are given acute attention in the first half, but neglected and hastily wrapped up in the final act. Michelle’s academic goals are completely discarded in the second half as well, and when a dramatic kiss is pulled out of thin air in the last scene it revealed a virtually non-existent romantic subplot which I completely missed.
But "How She Move" is so fresh and visually and aurally vibrant its just nitpicking to over-analyze its story shortcomings. As an aside, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is that it managed to open in over 1500 North American screens without ever playing at TIFF. This is encouraging for the industry which is usually so heavily weighed on those 10 days in September. Enjoy.
"How She Move" is available on DVD from Mongrel Media in Canada and Paramount Pictures in the U.S.