Kiki – Official Site
Right up front let me apologize for any technical or terminological inaccuracies that may arise in this review. Tonight’s aGLIFF 29 closing film, Kiki, introduced me to an entire esoteric subculture at a rapid fire pace. Kiki is a most astounding and consequential documentary, so I will attempt to do justice in talking about it, but I am relaying elements as I experienced them and may not be getting all terms just right by context alone.
Kiki is a dance form that has been in existence for the last decade or so and is the logical progression of the New York Ballroom scene (think Voguing). At-risk youths have formed together into dance teams called Houses (for example, House of Unbothered-Cartier, House of Juicy, Opulent Haus of PUCCI). These houses function much like biological families with a House mother and father and they compete in ornate competitions against each other (balls). The film focuses on seven performers from the Houses of New York City. The Kiki subculture there offers a community to LGBTQ youth-of-color and helps them deal with the hardships they face ranging from pervasive homelessness and widespread poverty to transgender and gender identity issues.
The first thing that struck me in the film was the sheer size of the Kiki scene. Gymnasiums full of people, all brought together by the fact that they have been largely excluded from the larger national push for equality. Their lives are a daily struggle against poverty, homophobia, and transphobia. One of the characters makes mention of the importance of keeping Obama in office just so they can maintain the basic health services they need to survive. At another point, when marriage equality passes, one of the characters notes the power of wealthy, white gay men and wishes some of that attention were focused on the transgender issues.
Throughout it all, in the face of adversity and possible death, the performers push on. They support each other and mourn each other when a member of the group is lost (which happens with horrifying regularity from a number of causes). They build incredible costumes and dance with abandon just about anywhere they can, balls, subway stations, piers, anywhere. It is all to show that they exist and can express themselves as individuals outside of the ‘heteronormative’ box.
Kiki is an insightful documentary that pulls back the curtain on an entire section of the population who are not getting the societal support they deserve, and it is a wildly inventive and flashy showcase of their talents. The segments recorded at the balls are some of the most impressive costuming and choreography I have ever seen. Kiki has been lighting up film festivals from Sundance to Frameline and now our very own aGLIFF. PCB also learned from one of the film’s stars that Kiki has been picked up for distribution by IFC/Sundance Selects so look for it to be available to wider audiences soon.
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Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.