‘KIKI’ shines light on underground voguing subculture
As a white filmmaker from Sweden, Sara Jordenö had little knowledge of New York City’s Kiki scene, a community of LGBTQ minorities who gather to perform elaborate vogue dance routines.
But all that changed in Harlem, New York, when she met Twiggy Pucci Garcon, a leader and gatekeeper of the underground subculture.
"When they learned that I was an artist and a filmmaker, they set up a meeting with me," Jordenö said in an interview with The Park Record. "They said, ‘We want to ask you whether or not you want to do a project with us.’ They told me about their culture, and that was the start of it."
The resulting film, "KIKI," which Jordenö directed and co-wrote with Garcon, delivers an insider’s look into the Kiki subculture and paints a portrait of what life is like for many young LGBTQ minorities in New York City. The film is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition.
Jordenö admitted to some trepidation at the outset of making the film because, while she had some things in common with members of the Kiki scene, she was an outsider. But that quickly changed. She immersed herself in the culture and eventually formed bonds with the subjects of the film.
"I stood out when we started this," she said. "I was a minority there, and people could tell I was an outsider. But because people could tell I was with Twiggy, there was a trust. It would have been very difficult to make the project if that invitation and collaboration wasn’t in place. That’s why when you see the film it’s a very intimate film."
Voguing — a form of dance that evolved out of Harlem in the 1980s and was popularized by the Madonna song in 1990 — is at the center of the film. But in exploring the Kiki scene, the film reveals broader truths about the lives of the people in it. Many have been rejected by their families for their sexualities or for their gender identities. And even those who haven’t often experience discrimination from police officers or others who don’t understand them.
The Kiki culture is, ultimately, a place for young LGBTQ minorities to find acceptance. It’s something akin to a family.
To Jordenö, the sense of community is inspiring.
"A lot of their lives are very, very difficult," she said. "But the resilience and agency in these people, and the friendship and support system that they’ve created, is so impressive. It was something that I was thinking about constantly."
Jordenö said people who have seen the film, regardless of their backgrounds, have identified strongly with the people depicted in it. She is hopeful that viewers at Sundance will also find meaning.
"I know that people have taken away different things," she said. "Even if you haven’t been turned away by your family, you can still relate to these themes. There are also parents in this film, so people will relate to being a parent with a child who is different. There are a lot of different layers."
"KIKI" is an entrant in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition. It will be screened on the following dates: Jan. 26, 5:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theater in Park City; Jan. 27, 3 p.m., Yarrow Hotel Theater in Park City; Jan. 28, 10 p.m., Redstone Cinema 2 in Park City; Jan. 29, 6 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theater; Jan. 30, 9 a.m., Yarrow Hotel Theater.
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