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There have been countless break-dancing movies through the years, but few convey such high stakes as Courey Deeb’s documentary about young Guatemalan men and women who choose to express themselves via dancing rather than by joining a gang. Admittedly, they’re in the distinct minority, as we’re informed early on that there are currently some 70,000 gang members in Central America. But BBoy for Life provides visually joyful evidence that there are more life-affirming options available.
According to the film, there is a distinct antipathy between the two groups. “We don’t get along with break dancers,” one gang member declares, and indeed many dancers have been attacked or killed for such transgressions as simply walking in gang territory. That the BBoys are often dressed in similar fashion to the gangsters puts them in further danger, as they are often the victims of mistaken identity.
Interviews with numerous gang members well illustrate the brutality of their lifestyle. A female gangster explains that “an active gang member is one who kills.” Others go into more lurid detail, including one who says that the worst thing he’s ever done is chop up a woman.
The film largely concentrates on three figures: Leidy, a 34-year-old woman recently released from prison after serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for extortion (it was far from the worst offense she ever committed, she informs us) who is desperate to prevent her young sons from following in her footsteps; Cheez, a break dancer who leads his dance team, dubbed the Poker Crew, in break competitions dubbed “battles”; and Gato, a dancer whose brother was gunned down by a gang for refusing to give up the names of his fellow crew members.
Inevitably, the pungent interviews with the gang members and moving portraits of those resisting the pull of violence give way to extensive footage of the BBoys in action. Despite the skillful photography and editing by Justin Gustavision, which makes frequent use of slo-mo, the endless break-dancing competition sequences prove as repetitive here as they do in the large number of similarly themed films that have preceded it.
Opens: April 11 (Nadus Film, New World Distribution, Aspiration Media)
Production: Blue Sky
Director: Coury Deeb
Producers: Coury Deeb, Bryce Butler, Health Gross, Mark Minnery
Director of cinematography/editor: Justin Gustavision
Composer: Neil Degraide
Not rated, 84 minutes
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