US filmmaker makes directorial debut with 'Bruk Out!'
"At first glance, people who are uninitiated into dancehall see it as a sexual thing. And it is. You can't really divorce it from sexuality. But it's almost transcending and making sexuality so aggressive that it's giving all the power back to the woman."
Brooklyn-based film and television practitioner Cori McKenna hopes to communicate this thought with the global distribution of her debut feature-length documentary, Bruk Out!
The film had this premiere screening at the grand finale beach celebration of the renewed Cinema Paradise, more affectionately called 'Portie Film Festival', presented by Great Huts Resort.
"It's been a beautiful journey, one that has been overwhelmingly accepted. There are people who will be less receptive, but so far, everyone has been beautiful," McKenna told The Gleaner.
She returned to Jamaica for the first time in two years, since filming for the local screening of her directorial debut. Last evening was the first time Bruk Out! was shown to a local audience, but curtains have lifted for the film at internationally renowned film festivals, and it has been included as part of presentations in museums.
The documentary follows six dancehall queens hailing from Japan, Italy, the United States, Poland, Spain, and Jamaica, as they prepared to do battle at the International Dancehall Queen Competition in 2014. With the intent to explore how a dance born from poverty and oppression, has transformed into a vehicle of empowerment for the women who perform, McKenna executed a successful month-long kick-starter campaign, raising US$50,000 to complete the film in October 2014.
McKenna's efforts continue to pay off. The accomplished filmmaker told The Gleaner that Bruk Out! had it's world premiere at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in June this year, where it was picked up by an unnamed distributor.
"They are in charge of strategising the release of the film, which we hope is something that will happen in the next three months. We should get it on all digital platforms, and also have screenings around the world and in communities in Jamaica where the film was shot," she said.
In hopes that cost analysis of global marketing for the film proves favourable, McKenna intends for the film's six stars to physically participate in international promotion. Though official distribution remains pending, Bruk Out! has already travelled to international audiences. On August 5, the film was screened in the director's hometown at the Brooklyn Museum at an event which included a panel discussion attended by dancehall queen, Famous Red, who is featured in the film and also hails from Brooklyn.
Though Bruk Out! marks the director's debut, McKenna's professional profile is extensive. She is a former editor of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and an alum of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me documentary team. McKenna is also recipient of a Peabody Award, which honours the most powerful, enlightening and invigorating stories in television, radio and online media.
With her debut, she expressed interest in exploring other aspects of Jamaican culture, keeping female empowerment in mind.
"I'm interested in social issues, violence against women, underreported issues ... women's issues, really. There are so many complicated Jamaican stories. When I meet people, I would like to act as a conduit, a listener ... especially with Jamaican producers. It's important to have Jamaican partners," McKenna said.