B-"Bouncing Cats" [film review]

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}

A few months ago we shared the trailer for Bouncing Cats in our forum. The film essentially captures b-boy culture being used as a "vehicle, or seed, for something greater", and itself is a "fundraising opportunity" the creators contributed to in the name of Breakdance Project Uganda's mission to help heal damage caused by the chaos of war.

One reviewer noted that you may be annoyed by Red Bull Media House's "gratuitous use of product placement" on Crazy Legs -- "He wears a Red Bull jersey in one scene, is drinking a Red Bull in another, is wearing a Red Bull cap in the next, is wearing a Red Bull t-shirt in the next, and so on". But also noted that "at the end of it all, the overall message is for such a good cause that you won’t care anymore".

Here, Opiyo Okeyo presents for The Liberator a retelling of his personal encounter with the film at a recent screening. In his analysis he contemplates the defining characteristics of humanity, the dangers of self-serving charity {see: "Don't Save Darfur"}, the role of corporate sponsorship in the telling of human stories, and the actions that illustrate the best of human potential and intention.

Bouncing cats, B-Bouncing cats
by Opiyo Okeyo

How many documentaries have we seen concerning the African continent or the plight of the African people? Countless, I’m sure. "This 501c needs 35 cents to help Africa, this non-profit organization needs $1 to feed Africa, and this NGO needs $20 to bring clean water to Africa."

*Cue clip of a malnourished child running around Louisiana’s Morial Convention Center.

We’ve seen a lot of those clips, documentaries, and TV pray-a-thon/pay-a-thon segments. Bouncing Cats is not that.

Bouncing Cats proves to be somewhat of an exception to the overdone charity formula of “let’s intrude/exploit/visit “x” country, shoot some footage, and return to the states to discuss amongst each other just how we can help." As stated by the creators, the film is an inspiring story of one man's attempt to create a better life for the children of Uganda using the tool of hip-hop, with a focus on b-boy culture and break dance. The film is produced by Red Bull Media House, narrated by recording artist, Common, and features appearances by Mos Def, Will.i.am, and K'naan.

Can filmmakers or artists always pursue their craft with smaller human communities in mind or with the purpose of disseminating information? Is a product placement agreement with a major corporate brand the only way Bouncing Cats type stories can find the funding necessary to bring it to a world stage? As an independent filmmaker myself, these are the questions that frequently revisit me. Though I am simply not sure, what I do know is that an honest story was shared with many in a fairly packed National Geographic Live auditorium in Washington DC. As K'naan put it, “these are the stories that humanity is made of”.

Empathy was the reoccurring theme throughout the various narratives depicted in the film. Bouncing Cats had several story lines, the first surrounding Abraham "Abramz" Tekya, a Ugandan b-boy and A.I.D.S. orphan who is convinced that being with the people of Uganda is where he should be despite opportunities of receiving funding to move to Europe and teach the craft of dance to young people in Denmark.

Abramz becomes inspired to create Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU) in hopes of providing a free opportunity for the young people in the community to find empowerment and rehabilitation. Secondly, there is Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon, an American break dancing legend who accepts an invitation from BPU, with the help of Red Bull Media House and director Nabil Elderkin, to visit Uganda and conduct a few master classes on break dancing with the children in the BPU community. Finally we meet Melissa Adams who is in Uganda as a Fulbright mtvU scholar exploring hip-hop as a source of therapy. Adams becomes an integral part of the story as she seeks to create an event in which the young people can showcase their break dancing skills amongst each other.

From Abramz to director Nabil Elderkin, and mtvU Fulbright scholar Melissa Adams, Bouncing Cats offers multiple storylines that remind us of the beauty of our humanity. A beauty that, perhaps, reveals itself when we are at our best as human beings -- when we are making a contribution to the world around us in some way.

This empathy is displayed by Abramz passing a Denmark dance grant to teach break dancing in Uganda. And by doing so, sacrificing greater compensation for an opportunity to make a greater contribution in Uganda, his native country. Nabil is a fairly successful commercial director, having completed projects with pop artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Common, and Mos Def. He did not have to make the film for notoriety, and he certainly did not make the film to break any box office records or sell out theaters. Nonetheless, he has visited Uganda more than once and saw the Ugandan people as people and believed their story to be worthy of being shared for the sake of spreading information if nothing else.

The evening ended with a Q&A session where a very young child asked “why were the children [dying] like that”. Okot Jolly Grace, founder of the after school initiative HEALS (Health, Education, Arts, Literacy, and Sports) and coordinator for Invisible Children responded, “Well a man named Joseph Kony created the Lord’s Resistance Army and set out to abduct small children and train them to be soldiers. He put guns in their hands to fight grown ups. Some survived but most did not. That is why we see them dying".

Many of us were gracefully reminded of an intense story of life in another corner of the world, while others were informed for the first time.

Liberator Magazine contributor Opiyo Okeyo is an independent filmmaker from Los Angeles, CA whose current project, Rest In Beats, is a documentary exploring the importance of record sampling as a means toward bridging music’s generation gaps and preserving culture.