The ImagineNative Film Festival celebrates Canadian and international Indigenous filmmakers and artistic expressions. Tammy Davis is the film maker in question today. Of Maori descent, he identifies with Ngati Rangi and Atihaunui a Paparangi. The Maoris are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They have a rich mythology, a knack for horticulture, a strong sense of warrior culture, and yes, a generous history with the performing arts.
Fitting then that Davis makes his feature-length directorial debut with Born To Dance. The premise of Born To Dance is an overfamiliar coming of age tale. Tu is a young man born to dance. His disapproving father forbids it. Tu is perhaps a couple of years older than we’re used to in this role because instead of being threatened with military school, he’s threatened with the military, full stop. If Tu doesn’t get his act together during the summer post-high school graduation, the army awaits him. It occurs to me as I write this that Born To Dance might be Queen of Katwe in disguise, only replace the chess with hip hop, and the slums of Uganda for low-income housing in Auckland.
Where Born To Dance distinguishes itself, much like Queen of Katwe, is with its culture and setting. Tu is notably from the “wrong side of the tracks”, whether or not there are actual tracks in southern Auckland. Tu is played by first-time actor\championship dancer Tia-Taharoa Maipi, himself a young Maori man who danced his way out of a small town not unlike the character arc we see in the film. He helps give the film a flavour of authenticity. Compared to a well-off rival dance crew from the North Shore, Tu explains that “Dance is what they do; dance is who we are.”
In the expected dance-off at the end, where the two rival crews inevitably face off, director Davis gives the performers time and space to really show off their talent. This is a dance movie after all, and the moves are there to prove it. Choreographed by the legendary Parris Goebel, Born To Dance is the real deal. The movie’s smaller budget means there aren’t a lot of wires or camera tricks at play, just real dancers doing their thing. P-Money provides a stellar soundtrack with tracks that embody kiwi culture.
Like most of you, I’m familiar with New Zealand film because of Taika Waititi’s insane comedies, and the fringey-funny horrors the country is known for. Born to Dance presents another side of what New Zealand has to offer, and I’d like to see more like it, only next time without the insufferably clichéd bits. Just sayin.
This post first appeared at Cinema Axis.