Glorious artistic expression (21st Century voguing) and grassroots activism, are the joined forces driving New York’s contemporary LGBTQ black and Latino underground House/Ballroom scene. Twenty-seven years after Jennie Livingston‘s seminal documentary “Paris Is Burning,” Swedish, NYC-based visual artist and documentary filmmaker Sara Jordenö’s exuberant and inspiring “Kiki” offers a three-year immersion in the balls and the lives of the young participants.
Jordenö was doing research at a community organization, Faces NY, where she was introduced to Twiggy Pucci Garçon, a force in the Kiki scene, who, with his best friend/colleague ChiChi Mizrahi, wanted to make a documentary about the culture that had saved their lives.
After an initial meeting, Garçon invited Jordenö to make the film. He would serve as her guide. But they quickly realized the film would have to be a total collaboration–Jordenö was aware that “my Swedishness, my whiteness” would prevent her from “fully understanding and making a nuanced portrait.” Garçon, championing “Not About Us, Without Us,” became the co-writer of the film. He and Jordenö became family.
Editing footage that Garçon calls “150 hours of pain, joy, struggle, triumph, expression and resilience,” Jordenö features the strenuous and exacting pre-ball preparations and the spectacular costumes (remarkably realized on near invisible budgets) and performances–exhilarating for both the spectator and the dancer. As a member of the House of Pink Lady says, “Realness, no matter what it is…(here), you’re real.”
Garçon, who came to New York from small-town Virginia to study fashion, founded the Opulent Haus of Pucci. In moving interviews, he and the Haus’s family members talk about their lives (being frequently subject to ridicule, and sometimes violence), and their art. It’s revealed that striving for their fierce ballroom performances is possible because Kiki provides a safe and empowered space, and resources to combat homelessness.
The scene is a refuge for these teenagers and young adults of color (a minority within a minority), even more necessary since last week, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions shamefully chose making life yet more difficult for trans kids as his Justice Department’s number one priority.
“Kiki” will open on Wednesday, March 1 at the IFC Center. Jordenö and cast members will participate in Q&As at the 7:20 pm show on Wednesday and Thursday, March 2.