York film students see how she moves

One year ago, How She Move, an edgy urban-dance feature film scripted by York alumna Annmarie Morais (BFA ’95), was screened at the Sundance Festival, the premier US showcase for American and international independent film. It took Sundance by storm, triggering a bidding war capped by a world distribution deal with Paramount. The film will be released theatrically across North America on Jan. 25.

Left: Rutina Wesley as "Raya" stars in How She Move. Photo by Ian Watson. Copyright 2007 by Paramount Vantage, a division of Paramount Pictures. Photo courtesy Mongrel Media.

As the featured guests in the Norman Jewison Series of York University’s Film Department, Morais and How She Move’s producer, Jennifer Kawaja, will present a special preview screening of their sleeper hit on Jan. 23 at 7pm in the Price Family Cinema, Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus. York students, faculty and staff are invited to attend this free screening, which will be followed by a question and answer session with Morais and Kawaja.

Shot in Hamilton, Ont., and set in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood, How She Move is a gritty coming-of-age drama punctuated with electrifying step-dance sequences set to a driving hip-hop soundtrack. The film tells the story of Raya, a smart, fiercely ambitious black girl who sees a step-dance competition with a big money prize as the opportunity to get out and get ahead. As she tries to dance her way out of despair and into her own identity and future, Raya learns hard lessons about class, community and family, and that winning always comes at a cost.

Right: Annmarie Morais

Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid (Touch of Pink), the movie stars Rutina Wesley, with street-style step sequences by choreographer Hi-Hat and special appearances by R&B singer-songwriter Keyshia Cole and comedian DeRay Davis.

Screenwriter Morais, herself the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, developed a love of the percussive, gymnastic, intensely rhythmic dance form of stepping while a student in York’s Film Production Program. Her class project, the award-winning short documentary, Steppin To It, which followed the pressures and preparations surrounding co-ed step teams getting ready for a big contest, was the forerunner and inspiration for How She Move

In 1999, Morais became the first Canadian ever to receive the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, for her dramatic script Bleeding. She recently wrote and produced for the Global Television series Da Kink in My Hair, and is currently collaborating on several projects in development with Sienna Films, the producers of How She Move. See a profile of Morais in the latest issue of YorkU magazine.

Kawaja is a principal of Sienna Films, an independent film and television production company based in Toronto. Sienna Films’ long list of credits includes the multiple Gemini Award-winning productions One Dead Indian (see the Jan. 4, 2006 issue of YFile) and I, Claudia; the Canadian east coast film classics Marion Bridge and New Waterford Girl; and several award-winning documentaries including Black, Bold and Beautiful: Black Women and their Hair; Erotica; and Man Overboard.

Right: Step-dancing up a storm from How She Move. Photo courtesy Mongrel Media.

The Norman Jewison Series is one of three ongoing public screening and discussion series presented by York’s Film Department. It is named in honour of the internationally acclaimed Canadian film director and producer whose generous support has made this program possible. The Norman Jewison Series brings distinguished film artists to York to meet with film students and to present and discuss their work in a public forum open to the wider community.

To view the movie trailer, click here