Acclaimed documentary by Sara Jordenö reveals NYC's exuberant LGBTQ ballroom scene
One of the most popular documentaries to emerge from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is about to reach wider audiences.
KIKI, which takes viewers inside the deliriously dynamic ballroom scene in New York, where LGBTQ youth of color compete in elaborately choreographed shows, will open in Los Angeles on February 24, the same day it becomes available on VOD platforms. It opens theatrically in New York on March 1.
The announcement comes almost a year after the film's world premiere at Sundance, which was followed by an international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Swedish filmmaker Sara Jordenö directed the film, in collaboration with Twiggy Pucci Garçon, who is credited as co-writer. Garçon is the founder of the largest house of dancers in the film, the Opulent Haus of PUCCI.
Watch this one-minute video I shot at Sundance for a demonstration of Kiki moves by one of the main characters in the film, Francisco Gonzalez Jr., aka Chi Chi Mizrahi. Kenneth "Samba Mcqueen" Soler-Rios is on the mic.
While the film includes an array of dance performances, its real focus is on the lives of the gay and transgender youth in the film, many of whom have been kicked out by their families, leaving them homeless. These young people, in a moving display of resiliency, essentially form their own families built around "rival" dance houses. "Rival" belongs in quotes because the community, above all else, is extraordinarily supportive of its members. It is the life-affirming quality of the film that touches many who have seen KIKI.
KIKI recalls the extraordinary 1990 film Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston, but with a significant difference. The young people profiled in Paris Is Burning felt like a group marginalized by society and under existential threat from HIV/AIDS. What distinguishes the people in KIKI is their refusal to live in the shadows, without agency.
"The Kiki scene is not an empty spectacle, it is a serious, grassroots activist project with real political influence and empowerment as one of its goals," as Jordenö wrote in a director's statement. But she adds, "There is an urgency in Kiki that asks its viewer to recognize that people in the film are still lacking basic civil rights. This is particularly true of the individuals of transexperience in the film, Zariya and Gia."
Strike a pose: two views of the KIKI team at Sundance. Lower row L-R: Gia Marie Love, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, director Sara Jordenö, DJ MikeQ. Upper row L-R: Kenneth "Symba McQueen" Soler-Rios, Chi Chi Mizrahi, Christopher Waldorf. Photos by Matt Carey
Prominent reviewers are hailing the film. Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times, "Kiki fluidly combines interviews with on-the-street and dance-floor scenes to create an exhilarating, multifaceted portrait of ballroom participants, a number of whom are L.G.B.T. activists. Kiki is also an indelible, must-see ode to gay New York.”
Richard Lawson wrote in Vanity Fair, "It’s a spirited, funny, touching portrait of some seriously smart, creative, and defiant young people. The film makes you feel good about the future, which is pretty hard to do these days.”
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.