Step: Panel Discussion with Director Amanda Lipitz and Film Subjects
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
An advance screening of the documentary Step (Amanda Lipitz, 2017) was held July 25 at the Newseum. Welcoming remarks were made by Chip Smith, head of public affairs for 21st Century Fox, and then by the two Senators from Maryland Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen. After the screening a panel discussion took place with film director Amanda Lipitz, and film subjects Step coach Gari McIntyre, school counselor Paula Dofat and Step team members/students Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon. The film follows three members of the Lethal Ladies Step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women as they seek to get accepted into college and to compete in a Step dance tournament. Step received a special jury prize for inspirational filmmaking at Sundance. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Left to right: Amanda Lipitz, Coach G, Blessin Giraldo, moderator, Paula Dofat, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon. Photo by Brian Payne
Moderator: What a powerful film. Why did you decide to make this film?
Amanda Lipitz: I knew nothing about stepping. I'm a Broadway producer in my other life, I was born and raised in Baltimore. I've been going in and out of [the students' school] since they were 11 years old, making shorts about their school. In the 8th grade Blessin said to me, "Next time you come to school the cameras as going to be on the Step team." I walked in, everybody was lined up ready to go. They started to step, and for me it was what happens in a great musical. Characters can't speak anymore so they sing to express their fears, hopes and dreams and that's what they were doing with Step.
Moderator: Coach G, you got these women at such a vulnerable time in their lives where they're looking to figure things out, as we all are. And they found their voice through Stepping. You being their coach, the person who directed them, through this long journey, what gave you the power to say, "I can help them tell their story, I can help them change their lives."
Gari McIntyre (Coach G): When I met them they were so talented, so cute and so determined. When I first met the whole team, Cori stood up and said, "Next year I'll be a freshman at Johns Hopkins." I was like "whoa." Tayla asked me, "How did you become a step master? This is something I want to do." It challenged me to be the best person I could be and the best coach. I think they can take a lot of credit for bringing out the best in me.
Moderator: While you were inspiring them, they inspired you?
Coach G: Absolutely. Also, I could relate to them in so many different ways. I saw a lot of myself in each and everyone of them.
Moderator: I want to thank you for your candor in the film, because you said some things that make us realize you've been there; she's is not just talking this talk, she has walked this walk. When you said some may not have a refrigerator to put their food in, that's real.
Moderator:[to Paula Dofat] You are what I hope every educator aspires to be. Your passion and humanity is what changes lives.
Paula Dofat: This is my life calling; this is my job. These young women you see here and all the girls at my school and their parents entrust a piece of their life to me. I don't have the right not to be excellent (audience claps).
Moderator: She told me she's the tough one, the disciplinarian.
Paula Dofat: I have three soft moments a year. You caught one of them. The girls will tell you I have a big window in my office, they would duck under the window, send girls in to distract me and try to get past my office. Because at the end of the day I'm the one that holds their feet to the fire. And I gladly do that because they are going out into a world that is not going to love them the way we love them. So we have to prepare them.
Moderator: [To Blessin] She held your feet to the flames like I don't know what. We were rooting for you and I was glad someone was holding you accountable. What was it like, being a member of this team, at one point being ostracized a bit, and then pulling it all together and accomplishing what you did. What was that journey like that for you?
Blessin Giraldo: You don't really appreciate your progress until you respect the process. There was never a moment where I said maybe I can't go to college, or maybe this isn't for me. There were times when I had to go back to the drawing board and talk to the coach, to Amanda, reach out to my teammates and say, "I'm not having the best time at home or in my environment but I need you to give me some extra love right now." And they were always willing to do that. Where I come from, how much money I have or don't have, doesn't define me or what I'm capable of. And I say, "Step is life." That was one of the first things I said in the documentary. How to be courageous, how to be captain, a leader, a teammate, a girl that can be just as good in the back as she is in the front. Step has taught me a lot about what I want to incorporate in the classroom, in my work field. Step is life. Step is who I am. That and the love I received from the sisterhood. loyalty I just had to figure that out myself.
Moderator: Cori, you made us all proud. How is school?
Cori Grainger: Pretty well. I'm studying computer science and international studies with a minor in Spanish (audience claps). My first semester academically was everything I expected. It was just different actually being there and going through it. But that was a time when I learned about myself. Coming from BLS, I was a big fish in a small pond and at Hopkins, everybody at Hopkins graduated valedictorian. I had to learn how to study; I had to learn what works best for me. I never had to do that before, so it was a good time to learn about myself. My second semester was much better than the first.
Moderator: Tayla, your mother is so supportive. What is it like leaving home, now you're on your own, navigating the world?
Tayla Solomon: We have a great relationship. She calls me and texts me every day if I don't talk to her. She is my best friend.
Moderator: You seem more reserved than the other girls.
Tayla Solomon: Reserved? Sometimes I have my guard up and I'm not as emotional as the rest of the team. I'm very straightforward with what I have to say and how I feel. But Step has brought a sisterhood for me; I'm an only child. So I have 18 sisters, and 18 different relationships with each and every girl. They taught me how to be a sharer and a teammate.
Moderator: [To Amanda] We feel like we know these girls. These are our little sisters, and our teachers as well. Will we learn more about them in a sequel? Will we follow them through college?
Amanda Lipitz: I'm definitely not following them through college. I want them to go to college and do their thing. I'm excited about all the opportunities that this film has possibly given us by releasing it on such an amazing platform throughout the country. And I just think these young women have changed my life. People always ask who did I make the movie for--the 19 girls in it. All I ever wanted was for them to be proud to have been a part of it and to go back to their neighborhoods with their heads held high that they had done something positive for their city and were inspiring people. We're so grateful, humbled by all of you and your reaction. Every city we go to we see audiences and young people and their reactions to it and it's just beyond our wildest dreams, we're just so grateful.
Moderator: Coach G, you have a fresh crop of girls.
Coach G: Yes. They have big shoes to fill, obviously. This next Step season coming up, I have big goals for a national competition. Hopefully we will do that. I don't cut anyone off the team. So whoever comes out and can make it through and deal with me, has a place on the team; I'll always find something for them.
Moderator: I asked her when did you know the girls would win. What did you say to me?
Coach G: I never knew. I was trying to be super confident. In real life, I didn't know until after everyone had performed. At the time, I just wanted to motivate them and make them feel I believe in them and I'm here for them. They didn't need a lot of confidence boosting.
Amanda: They were all... "We got this Amanda, don't worry, we're winning."
Coach G: This was my first year coaching, my first competition, so it was a big deal and I'm really proud.
Moderator: Blessin, what are you doing now besides school?
Blessin Giraldo: I'm trying to talk to the youth, and educate people who don't know about Step; we educate them on its rich culture and where it comes from. I feel like I have a responsibility to remind educators of how important it is to appreciate the arts and for public education and not cut funding. (audience claps)
Moderator: Paula, are you still inspiring youth and getting them through their college application process?
Paula Dofat: This is my second graduating class 2017 and all are college accepted. (audience claps) Ten percent of my graduating class are on full rides. I'm hoping to continue and I really hope I will get the opportunity to train other counselors.
Moderator: Cori, what lies ahead for you?
Cori Grainger: We are all doing well and actually just bought our first house. Things are looking up for sure.
Moderator: Tayla, what lies ahead for you?
Tayla Solomon: I'm working on getting my GPA higher. I'm on the honor role, I have a 3.28 and I'm trying to get it higher. And definitely being more involved on campus. Because I was really in the library and in my room the first semester. So I'm trying to be open.
Moderator: Ladies, thank you for being so transparent. You really moved us. This is about the human condition. See this story, see these young women as they go through life as they persevere and as they succeed. We all have a story to tell, and Amanda you told us so beautifully.
Step opens in the DC area August 4.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
"Underworld: International Crime Cinema" (July 8-September 13) is an ambitious collection of thrillers, police procedurals and neo-noirs from around the world. Titles in August are Neighboring Sounds from Brazil; Toro from Spain; A Monster With a Thousand Heads from Mexico; Metro Manila (2014) from the Philippines; The Age of Shadows from Korea; Marshland from Spain; The Raid--Redemption and The Raid 2 from Indonesia; Gangs of Wasseypur Parts 1 and 2 from India; A Hard Day from Korea; The Bone Man from Austria; The Nile Hilton Incident from Germany; The Red Spider from Poland; Departmente Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes from Sweden; The Memory of a Killer from Belgium; The Prime Minister from Belgium; Bullhead from Belgium; and Blind Spot from Belgium. More in September.
"AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective: Diane Keaton" (July 7-September 7) is a series of films starring Diane Keaton. Titles in August are Manhattan, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Reds and Godfather. One more in September.
"Canada Now" (July 7-September 13) is a series of films celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada's birthday. Titles in August are The Sweet Hereafter, Window Horses, Good Riddance, August 32nd on Earth, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, Koneline: Our Land Beautiful, Leolo, Hello Destroyer, My Winnipeg, Stories We Tell, Searchers, Shivers, The Confessional, Nelly and Cafe de Flore. More in September.
"Seven Beauties: The Films of Lina Wertmuller" (July 7-August 20) is a collection of recently restored films with one documentary. Titles in August are Summer Night, Seven Beauties, Ferdinando and Carolina and the documentary Behind the White Glasses.
"Jonathan Demme Remembered" is a short series commemorating the director who died this year. Titles are The Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild, Stop Making Sense and Melvin and Howard.
"Andrzej Zulawski Remembered" (July 28-August 12) is a mini-retrospective of the Polish director's films. August titles: The Third Part of the Night and The Devil.
"Harry Potter and the Silver Screen" shows all eight of the Harry Potter films. Titles in August are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2.
Special Engagements during August include House from Japan, The Running Man, The Graduate, Chuck Berry Hail Hail Rock n Roll, Zodiac, Rashomon, Mifune: The Last Samurai, I Confess, Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness.
The 48 Hour Film Project presents the Best of 2017 on August 4.
"Stage and Screen" presents stage performances from the National Theater. During August is "Angels in America."
Outdoor films in August are shown on Veterans' Plaza. Titles are Back to the Future Part II, The Lego Batman Movie and Purple Rain.
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer is closed for renovations until October 2017. Films will be shown at varying locations.
The 22nd Annual "Made in Hong Kong" Film Festival concludes in August. On August 4 at 7:00pm is Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004); on August 6 at 1:00pm is Beast Cops (Gordon Chan and Dante Lam, 1998); and on August 6 at 3:30pm is Made in Hong Kong (Fruit Chan, 1997). All are shown at the American History Museum's Warner Bros. Theater.
An advance screening of the Korean film Battleship Island (Ryoo Seung-wan, 2017) is on August 3 at 7:00pm. Location: Landmark's E Street Cinema.
National Gallery of Art
"Cinema de la revolution: America Films Eighteenth-Century France" (July 14-August 12) is shown in conjunction with the exhibit "America Collects Eighteenth Century French Painting." On August 11 at 2:00pm is A Tale of Two Cities (Jack Conway, 1935) and on August 12 at 12:30pm is Madame du Barry (William Dieterle, 1934).
"Gaumont at 150: Twelve Unseen Treasures" (August 5-September 2) looks at some of the rarer films from the renowned French studio. On August 5 at 2:00pm is L'assassin habite au 21 (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1942); on August 5 at 4:00pm is Razzia sur la chnouf (Henri Decoin, 1955); on August 6 at 4:00pm is Les tontons flingueurs (Georges Lautner, 1963); on August 12 at 3:00pm is Les amants de Montparnasse (Jacques Becker and Max Ophuls, 1958); on August 13 at 4:00pm is Les possedes (Andrzej Wajda, 1988); on August 19 at 2:00pm is a "cine-concert" Le miracle des loups (Raymond Bernard, 1924) with Andrew Simpson providing music accompaniment; on August 20 at 4:00pm is De Mayerling a Sarajevo (Max Ophuls); on August 26 at 2:00pm is Sans lendemain (Max Ophuls, 1939); on August 28 at 4:00pm is La tendre ennemie (Max Ophuls, 1936) and on August 27 at 4:00pm is Yoshiwara (Max Ophuls, 1937). One more in September.
National Museum of African Art
On August 19 at 2:00pm is the "Africa in Reel Time" presentation of Maami (Tunde Kelani, 2011) from Nigeria, based on the novel about a professional soccer player.
National Museum of the American Indian
On August 29 at 7:00pm is Dolores (Peter Bratt, 2017) about activist Dolores Huerta who worked with Cesar Chavez. After the film there will be a discussion with Dolores Huerta and filmmaker Peter Bratt.
Museum of American History
Films in the "Made in Hong Kong" series are shown in this location. See above.
Washington Jewish Community Center
On August 6 at 2:00pm is a work-in-progress of the documentary Searching for My Jewish Soul (Bonnie Rich, 2017), followed by an audience feedback session with filmmaker Bonnie Rich and Erica Ginsberg from Docs In Progress. On August 6 at 4:00pm is the documentary 51 Birch Street (Doug Block, 2006), followed by a Q&A with Doug Block.
A number of foreign films nominated for best documentary or best foreign language film are shown in August. On August 9 at 6:30pm and August 13 at 1:30pm is The Black Hen (Min Bahadur Bham, 2015), Nepal's pick as Best Foreign Language Film for the 88th Academy Awards. On August 10 at 8:30pm and August 12 at 6:00pm is the documentary Fire At Sea (Gianfranco Rosi, 2015), Italy's submission for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. On August 10 at 6:30pm and August 13 at 3:30pm is A Flickering Truth (Pietra Brettkelly, 2015), New Zealand's pick for the Academy Awards. On August 12 at 3:45pm and August 13 at 7:45pm is Yemen's pick for Oscars I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced (Khadija Al-Salami, 2014). On August 12 at 1:30pm and August 13 at 5:30pm is Tanna (Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, 2015), Australia's Oscar pick. On August 9 at 8:30pm and August 12 at 8:30pm is Afterimage (Andrzej Wajda, 2016), Poland's pick, about artist Wladyslaw Strzeminsk.
On August 19 at 7:30pm is the documentary American Socialist (Yale Strom, 2017). Q&A with filmmaker Yale Strom and writer Elizabeth Schwartz after the film.
On August 25 at 6:30pm is Finsterworld (Frauke Finsterwalder, 2013).
National Air and Space Museum
"Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen" is a series of WWI films commemorating the entry to the US in 1917. Films are shown in both locations and the series ends in November. On August 11 at 7:00pm is the documentary The Millionaires' Unit: U.S. Naval Aviators in the First World War (Darroch Greer and Ron King), about the little known story of a group of volunteers who created the first naval aviation reserve unit, most of whom were from wealthy families.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
The Rurouni Kenshin Live-Action Movie Trilogy concludes in August with Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (Keishi Ohtomo, 2014) on August 2 at 6:30pm and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, 2014) on August 16 at 6:30pm.
On August 2 at 8:00pm is the "Avalon Docs" film The B Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (Errol Morris, 2016).
On August 9 at 8:00pm is the "Czech Lions" film for August The Wolf from Royal Vineyard Street (Jan Nemec, 2016), based on Nemec's real-life short stories.
On August 16 at 8:00pm is A Woman's Life (Stéphane Brizé, 2016), this month's "French Cinematheque" film, adapted from the novel Une vie by Guy de Maupassant.
For "Reel Israel" on August 23 at 8:00pm is the re-scheduled Harmonia (Ori Sivan, 2016), a modern adaptation of the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar and set in the Jerusalem Philharmonic.
Italian Cultural Institute
On August 2 at 6:00pm is Do You See Me? (Riccardo Milani, 2014).
Library of Congress
The Mary Pickford Theater
at the Library of Congress starts a new series of films showcasing the Library's collection and including newly preserved films. On August 16 at 7:00pm is the sci-fi This Island Earth (Joseph Newman, 1955) starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason.
"Echoes of the Great War: World War I in European Films" is a summer film series featuring European perspectives on the Great War and complementing the exhibit "Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I." These films represent common human bonds and the costs of war that transcend national origin. On August 12 at 2:30pm is Testament of Youth (James Kent, 2014).
Anacostia Community Museum
On August 9 at 11:30am is Washington in the 70s, a WETA TV 26 production followed by a discussion.
On August 17 at 6:00pm is SoLa (2017), a documentary about the Louisiana Gulf oil pollution. Q&A after the film.
On August 18 at 11:00am is Viva La Causa! (2008), a documentary about Cesar Chavez.
On August 4 at 8:30pm is La La Land in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra performing the score. On August 5 at 8:30pm is Jurassic Park on the big screen, with NSO performing John Williams' music.
International Spy Museum
On August 23 at 6:30pm is Bon Voyage (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 2003), starring Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani.
"Two Film Guys from the Hill" (Mike Canning and Tom Zaniello) present "Two Great Cities, Two Great Films". On August 17 at 7:00pm is The Taking of Pelham 123 (Joseph Sargent, 1974) set in New York City and on August 24 at 7:00pm is In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Peterson, 1993) set in DC. Both films will be followed by Q&A with Mike Canning and Tom Zaniello.
On August 30 at 7:00pm is Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) part of the audience-participation "Quote Along" series of films. Shown at the Old Firehouse, 1440 Chain Bridge Rd.
Reel Affirmations XTra
On August 18 at 7:00pm is The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (David France).
Busboys and Poets
On August 30 at 6:30pm is the documentary Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock (Myron Dewey) followed by a Q&A. At the Shirlington location. Part of the "Focus-In!" film series.
The Phillips Collection
On August 24 at 6:00pm is Goodbye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003).
OUTDOOR FILM FESTIVALS
Every summer, numerous locations around the DC show films outdoors.