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INTERVIEW: Director Khadifa Wong On Her Documentary, "Uprooted: The Journey Of Jazz Dance"

T.J. Clemente

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, Calgary. (Photo: Courtesy of Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance)

Director Khadifa Wong's documentary, Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance, is a feature-length documentary celebrating the history, lineage, and future progressions of jazz dance. It weighted intellectually at a high level of abstraction, yet was extremely enjoyable to watch. This documentary is fast moving with brilliant camera work that ignites snippets with sprinkles of dazzling dialogue with footage that spins one's brain one way while capturing something in the heart and soul also. It's like a graduate school level lesson on jazz dance, but very simple to enjoy and watch. Wong's supervision of the editing of this film creates one razzle dazzle juggernaut of movement, information and emotion.

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance is currently screening as part of the virtual 2020 Hamptons Doc Fest. In an interview with Wong about the film, she said, "I was approached as a filmmaker with a dance understanding and it took off from there. I was told don't just cover one aspect of jazz dance, cover all aspects of it. I then started doing all the research and took that to heart - because you have to have all the social and political aspects. That was the genesis of it all."

Uprooted is a story of triumph over adversity, oppression, and privilege, as well as a celebration, because ultimately, what all people have in common is rhythm and a basic human need to get down. The documentary includes special appearances by Debbie Allen, George Faison, Chita Rivera, Camille A. Brown and Thomas F. DeFrantz. Uprooted also showcases the works of the Nicholas Brothers, Pepsi Bethel, Jack Cole, Katherine Dunham, Bob Fosse and Gene Kelly.

What pleases Wong best about this critically acclaimed documentary is, "I think we nailed the feeling that we started out with. We wanted to film something that had its own perspective."

"I think the most satisfying part was bringing to life stories that have been told before, and making sure we included the aspects of the social, political kind of landscape in a dance film - because that is not often done because dance is rarely set against the world that has created it. That doesn't give you a true understanding of why dance is so vital, because it is not just a reflection of our world," Wong told us. "We often just look at it as entertainment. To me, that was really important to set it against what was happening in the world at that time."

Sadly, due to COVID-19, Wong has not been able to watch a film audience observe the documentary in a theater. She said, "That's the sad thing about it, we have not been able to see how it's received."

When asked whom she was most honored to interview for the documentary, Wong revealed, "Debbie Allen, without a doubt, because one of the first TV shows I ever watched as a child was Fame, and she has been a constant in my life. She has been at the forefront of work that entertains and educates. She had a huge say in molding my vision of the world through the work she's done. To be able to be in a room with her and ask her questions and hear her views on some things was just absolutely wonderful. That experience was a true honor."

Wong continued, "However, to work with any of the contributors was an honor, because they came in with such an open-minded presence. Every person that we spoke to was like an hour's masterclass in itself of one perspective. Everyone came with one unique perspective, nothing was ever the same. You never heard anything that was exactly the same (as the other perspectives). I think that was really wonderful to be in - and this was the best study I have been able to do as a subject."

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance will be available to screen through the Hamptons Doc Fest's website through Sunday, December 13.

To screen Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance, visit www.hamptonsdocfest.com. For more information about Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance, visit uprootedfilm.com.

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