Music Producer/Director Sol Guy and Choreographer/Director Jon Boogz shine a light on the sorely suppressed issues of racial inequality and mass incarceration in the United States in Am I A Man?. The pair’s visual polemic creatively conveys its arguments through the visceral dance movements of artists Lil Buck and Jon Boogz himself, accompanied by the narration of clinical professor and social justice activist, Bryan Stevenson. I spoke to the directing duo about choreographing movement to express social and cultural strains and the position of visual media in bringing these important issues to the forefront of society’s conscience.

Jon, where did your desire to direct stem from?

Jon Boogz: My desire to direct came from my passion for both film and dance. I’ve been a movie junkie since I was a kid. My mother would take us to the movies every weekend so I love cinema, the way movies are shot, the scores, the powerful narratives, etc. I wanted to innovate a new style of film. Movement art films. You don’t see films as powerful as The Revenant or Apocalypto for example being told through movement and dance. So my goal for the last few years has been to create powerful dance narratives, to show people the true power of dance and its storytelling abilities.

How do you balance directing and performing simultaneously?

JB: I’ve always directed and danced at the same time in most of my shorts. It’s super hard to balance at times but the preparation prior to shooting is key. I dive knee deep in the story, shot list, locations, soundtrack, etc. so when shoot day comes we’re knocking everything out easy breezy. I’m inspired by Michael Jackson and Bruce Lee. Bruce would write, choreograph, star in and direct his movies. I feel like if he could do it I can do. It’s extra work yes but with time, dedication and a good creative team it’s all good 🙂

Sol, this project has a different stylistic approach to previous pieces produced by Great Big Story, how much free reign did you have over the content of the film?

Sol Guy: They gave us complete creative control, they shared ideas and notes but ultimately they let us run with it and everyone was happy with what we created.

Jon, can you tell us more about your creative process when choreographing a piece? How did the gravity of the topic dictate the framework of the choreography?

JB: The creative process of choreographing a piece starts with two things. The music and the narrative. The story and intention of the film dictate the movement 100 percent. Whatever the film is about we want the movement to embody all of it. The characters, the message and the emotion of the film. For example in Am I A Man? Buck and I truly put ourselves in the mindset of being locked up unjustly. What would that feel like mentally and physically, how hard it would be for you and your family. You think of all those emotions and what movements would best interpret those feelings. Then you create a score that captures that feeling and that narrative. So the movement, intention and music all marry as one.

Bryan Stevenson’s comments about incarceration are visually and narratively combined in the piece, how did you go about building this structure? Was it always your intention to mix Bryan’s voice with the film’s soundtrack or is this something you experimented with in post?

JB: First off, Bryan Stevenson is a hero and a great man. He was always intended to be a part of the piece. DAIS interviewed him, particularly for this project. Sol and I were watching his TED talk during the prep for this film and thought it would be super dope to add his facts and stats from his talk into the music. So subconsciously the viewer is being stimulated visually with movement but you’re also being educated with the stats of mass incarceration constantly throughout the film with the voice overs.

We believe dance is a universal storytelling language that hasn’t been given the proper platforms to show it’s true power. We are changing that.

We felt this was the driving force for the narrative, creating a new movement art documentary feel. I believe it helped the film have a constant purpose and keeps the viewer understanding what the overall message of Am I A Man? is all about.

Sol, do you think this type of media has a bigger impact than others in bringing social and cultural issues to light?

SG: I’m not sure it’s fair to measure, or what you could measure it by, I do know that for me I challenge myself and anyone I work with to find new ways to approach these issues as we have been told the same story our whole life even though it’s true I feel that our hearts have become paralysed due to lack of action and solutions on huge issues like mass incarceration or gun violence. How do you get people past their emotional atrophy? I think you must present new stories and this is our way of doing that to spark new dialogue and eventually solutions.

Jon, what gave you the inspiration to set up MIA and what is the ultimate goal for the organisation?

JB: MAI – Movement Art Is is an organisation that was founded by myself and fellow movement artist Lil Buck. The overall mission statement is to use movement and dance to inspire positive change in the world. We believe dance is a universal storytelling language that hasn’t been given the proper platforms to show it’s true power. We are changing that.

With the content we’re creating and the unique collaborations we’ve been blessed to be a part of, we believe we’re creating a new lane for dancers. We are the artist and we can be at the forefront of the artistry just like actors, rappers, singers, etc. Buck and I share the same passion for the expansion of dance. Movement artists being put on the same prestige level as other artists. We also believe arts and education go hand and hand. A lot of our work is provocative, informative and educational. Using dance as a new tool for education in school curriculums would be amazing to see one day.

Jon, you describe your work as seeking to push the evolution of what dance can be, how do you see your work evolving in the future?

JB: I’m always seeking to push the boundaries of what dance can be. In the future, I see Movement Art Films. Full-length feature films that use dance to tell powerful narratives. Not just films about ‘dance’. I want to show the world how powerful this art form truly is.

What are your plans for the future?

SG: Just to keep creating for the things that matter and to work with other like-minded artists who care deeply about what they create.

JB: My plans are to keep directing content of this nature. Keep growing and building this style. I eventually want to direct a feature film that uses all these tools you see in our shoot. MAI is currently working on a feature. That’s the next step. Taking this formula and extending it to feature film length. That’s going to be the new wave. Mark my words 🙂

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