"Flex Is Kings" and its inspirational look at Brooklyn's flex dancing movement has been one of the standouts of this year's Tribeca Film Festival. It's a film with enough grit to attract indie crowds and enough uplift to delight a more mainstream audience.
The highly athletic style of dance at the center of the low-budget documentary involves contortions and jumping that are daring, aggressive and even, at points balletic. The dancers' artistry contrasts sharply with their blighted surroundings.
Directors Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols filmed their slice of life documentary over a period of two years, raising much of the money from crowdfunding sites. For Schoo, a photographer by training, it also involved taking on a new skill. This marks her first feature film.
Schoo told TheWrap that premiering "Flex Is Kings" in the same city where it was shot and where its protagonists live is the best scenario possible.
"I don't want to tell depressing stories," Schoo said. "I'm inspired by and moved by people who are fighting the odds and these guys totally are."
What inspired you to make this film?
I met a flex dancer in 2008 while I was photographing a variety show, and this dancer just came on stage and he blew my mind. After the show, he started telling me about this dance competition called Battlefest, and what I found more amazing than the dancing was the fact that people were organizing themselves, and keeping themselves out of trouble and mentoring each other. It was a positive, community driven art scene. I started shooting photographs, but I quickly realized that the photographs weren’t telling the story. I figured it needed to be filmed.
You relied on crowd funding to make this film. How difficult was that?
It was tough, but it was also rewarding. We’d never done it before. We had to quickly learn about social media, press releases and how to get buzz going. It's not easy asking family and friends for financial support and that’s where you have to start. We just feel fortunate that our story was picked up by well-followed blogs and media, and we were able to meet our ambitious fundraising goals.
How much money did you raise?
All through production we had friends who donated their time, we donated our time, and we racked up debt on our credit cards. We were almost done shooting, but we couldn't go into post without crowdsourcing. We had 300 hours of footage. In order to get the film made, we couldn't ask editors to donate their time. We had two campaigns. One for post-production costs and to reimburse some production expenses. That raised $45,000. Then we recently wrapped a second one to put the film through the finishing process with color correcting and clearing music rights and all that. That was another $25,000.
Were you hoping to teach people more about flex dancing with your film?
We have not made a film that speaks to the history of flex, at all. We are not talking about where flex came from. We wanted to do a slice of life, a look at the here and now, through the lens of a couple of subjects who represent the themes, challenges, and desires of a whole community. I hope people see the film and are intrigued to go find out more about flex on their own.
What were some of the themes you wanted to convey with the people you focused on?
Their daily struggles — getting a job, keeping a job, having a child. The struggle between life and art. The ideas of mentorship and support in a neighborhood where half of the people are on public assistance and crime rates are high, but they're still gathering together and dancing it out.
It sounds like that could have been depressing, but your film is inspiring. Was it important to you to emphasize the positive aspect of the dancers' story?
I was so inspired by them. I was drawn to their optimism and the desire to do something and to rise above their circumstances. I don't want to tell depressing stories. I’m inspired by and moved by people who are fighting the odds and these guys totally are.
What does premiering in Tribeca mean for you?
It's perfect, because we worked on this for such a long time and the dancers had to have faith that when we were filming, filming, filming this would ultimately become something. Because we're showing the movie in their home city, the dancers can see it, feel it and be a part of it, so it's the best scenario possible.