Memphis Movement: A Labor of Love
So you’ve probably seen my posts or ads about my documentary film Memphis Movement: Jookin’ the Urban Ballet this week. I’m really excited to finally be able to share it with the world. I started the project way back in 2009 as the honors thesis for my film degree, and have done a few updates since then. Some new footage, new interviews, etc. There was a period of pause while negotiating, and having issues with potential distribution methods, which really weighed on me as a filmmaker. It’s truly been a labor of love for me getting this story out to you and the world.
Even if dance is not something that immediately interests you, I really encourage you to take some time out of your day this weekend to sit down and check it out in its entirety. It will expand your horizons, and you won’t regret it
I’ve never really been that into dance. That was, until I was introduced to Memphis Jookin.
I sort of had this generic idea that all dances were either the same or passing trends, and since my interests went more toward story telling, computers, and fitness, I never thought too much about it.
But in 2005 I moved from Clarksville TN to Memphis TN for school, and a couple years later, I was introduced to Memphis Jookin.
A friend of mine was so excited, pulling up a video of some people Jookin’ for me to watch because I said I hadn’t heard of it. As I said before, I wasn’t that into dance so I expected to be moderately entertained at best.
At the end of the video I was in awe.
The style was so unlike anything I had ever seen, in ways. It was freestyle yet distinctive. The dancers were up on their toes at times like ballerinas, bucking and jumping at other times like street or club dancers. The combination of the forms, that also incorporated popping and locking, waving, moonwalks, and sliding, was masterful. Everyone had their own unique take. And that combined with the hard hitting sounds of down south rap music made the dance an absolute art form.
I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of this! I couldn’t believe that the city itself wasn’t promoting this heritage.
I started watching more videos and began to fall in love with this art form that I felt was somehow…a part of me I guess I can say. I had been in Memphis for a couple of years. I’d been in the south for my entire life. I felt like this art form was a part of that story somehow. The story of a young black man brought up in the south where you don’t see a lot of world-changing, positive trends come from. You always feel like where you are is somehow “less” than the epicenters of culture like New York, LA, Chicago, etc. I knew that this had to be “on the map” and I had no clue how close it was to breaking out.
Ladia Yates Jookin
A couple of years later, I had to pick a topic for my honor’s thesis and Jookin was one of the first things to pop into my head.
I had watched the film RIZE in one of my other film classes and took note of the way that it introduced the style and the community of Krumping to the world. I wanted to do something similar but in a different way. I wanted it to have my own eye but most of all be completely Memphian.
I started to do some research on a couple of things like if the style “really” started in Memphis, and who would be the experts in the field that could lead me to the others who knew the story.
I got in contact with Young Jai, who was filming and documenting Memphis Jookin and getting it worldwide exposure. Jai put me in contact with Tarrik Moore, who had opened up a Jookin academy and was gaining attention as well for its impact on the community.
With their input I reached out to the generation before, people like rapper Al Kapone, Crunchy Black, Jaquency, Lil Wolf. All who had witnessed the birth of the dance form as it had evolved from “gangsta walkin” back in the 80's.
The story began to come together and expand. I began to see not only the history and logistics of the dance, but the impact it was having on the inner-city community, especially with the help of Tarrik Moore’s UDIG Dance Academy. Memphis is a dangerous city. With the help of positive influences, Jookin was saving lives.
Dr. Rico Jookin
I had some of the best and most challenging times of my life putting this film together. From a production standpoint I probably shot 85% of it single-handedly. Did lighting and ran sound at the same time. Did 100% of the editing. Made a few of the music tracks (we had to replace many songs for copyright purposes). Set up most of the interviews, meetings, etc.
Professionally, it was the BEST film production workshop/class one could ever have. So much troubleshooting, technical research etc. I learned sooo much! It was taxing. I recall sleepless nights dealing with issues when the editing program kept freezing as I was trying to make the deadline for the Indie Memphis Film Festival. The budget was minimal. Call it none.
I learned a ton about patience, humility, the lines between expectation and reality. Hope, disappointment and small victories. I also learned when to let go and call a prokect complete. Something tough for artists and perfectionists.
Tarrik, Daniel Price, Ellis Fowler, Dr. Rico, and G-Nerd during Q&A at the Indie Memphis Film festival
I did have a Tremendous amount of help form Tarrik, Jai, Daniel price, Dr. Rico, Terrence G-Nerd Smith, and the Jookin Community as a whole, as well as awesome friends like John Thomas (Jt slimcutta) who helped PA a few times and made a few tracks for the film. Brandon Griffin, Jonathan Thomason, Anwar Jamison, and Shannon Pickett who helped film on some very important event days. DJ Charlie White who contributed music, and others who helped on shoot days and helped me not drown under the tremendous weight I put on myself to complete this ambitious project.
Some of the awesome creatives who helped me with this film
I met SO many talented and truly amazing people on this journey. This film is for you! It’s your story. Your movement. I’m just blessed to have been allowed to be a part of it and to do my part to push this movement, this art, this blessing, to the world.
-Ellis E. Fowler
Filmmaker: Memphis Movement — Jookin: The Urban Ballet
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Originally published at Ellis E. Fowler.