Dir.: Amanda Lipitz; Documentary; USA 2017, 83 min.
Amanda Lipitz’ feature documentary STEP is proof that finding the right style for your subject matter is the basis of successful filmmaking: fast-moving but with an eye for detail, this is a rollercoaster ride of intensity. It also helps that Lipitz, a native of Baltimore, was a founder member of Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSfYW) whose class of 2009, entering its senior year, is the central focus of the film. Lipitz is not just a well-meaning outsider who presents the material before disappearing, but a fighter for the rights of one of the most disadvantaged minorities in the US: young black women.
STEP combines the two main goals of the first senior class of BLSfYW: to obtain college placements for all women students and to winning the Bowie State step competition. The documentary centres on the three leading girls of the step team, the “Lethal Ladies”, led by Blessin Giraldo. Blessin, hyperactive and a gifted dancer, puts all her frustrations into the dance routines – her home life is anything but ideal. Mother Geneva is suffering from depression and often unable to look after her family. When Blessin’s little brother discovers an empty ‘fridge again after school, his older sister admits she does not want this kind of life for herself. But Geneva, who has not even met one of her daughter’s teachers since 2009, always fails to live up to promises. Blessin is on the verge of dropping out, but principal Chevonne Hall and school counsellor Paul Dufat make sure that the target of 100% college placements for the class is realised. Cori Grainger is a straight A-student, whose mother has recently married an old friend; the merging of the two families brings new problems for Cori; who, in the end, successfully enters the prestigious Hopkins University. Finally there is Taylor Solomon, who has no problem achieving her grades, but is permanently embarrassed by mum Maisha, a correctional officer proud of her job and of telling all the parents about “her mission”. After the death of teenager Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015, which led to riots, Maisha’s profession makes her an outsider.
The dance routines under the watchful eye of coach Gari McIntyre and the appearance in the final of the competition – the “Lethal Ladies” all dressed as Cleopatra’ – dictate the tempo, even though more time is given to fleshing out the students’ background. DoP Casey Regan makes sure that the cinema vérité aesthetics are always adhered to; the music and the dancing reverberate all the time. Warm, funny and sad, the last word should go to Blessin: “We make music with our bodies. That’s some wicked stuff”. Indeed. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 6 AUGUST 2017