When Amanda Lipitz started making her Sundance sensation documentary “Step,” she began speaking with a group of inner-city Baltimore high school students before they entered high school. When the girls, who were forming a step team, were in 10th grade, she began filming interviews. When they entered 11th grade, she began filming them verite-style.
Then Freddie Gray was killed.
“I knew I had to throw out everything I’d shot until that point,” she said after a screening of the Michelle Obama–approved film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series.
Instead of an exploration of the art of step dancing through the eyes of these girls, “Step” became more than that. It became an exploration of how the young women were able to process such a horrific event, how step helped them build stronger relationships in their lives, and even how it helped them perform better in school and become the first people in their families to attend college.
“They’re going to take this tragedy and they’re going to turn it to something else,” she said.
Lipitz cited the Dixie Chicks documentary “Shut Up and Sing” as an inspiration for her film. She wanted to show each layer of the group’s routine, from the genesis of their Black Lives Matter theme to their final performance together.
“I made this film for the 19 girls in it,” she said. “I wanted them to be proud of it. If they weren’t proud of it, it wouldn’t have been worth it.”
The girls are all in college now, Lipitz said, and they’re all doing well — for now.
“There will be bumps. They will fall and they’re really lucky they have a great support system with each other and the school.”
While Lipitz, a Broadway producer, has plans to bring a fictionalized version of “Step” to the stage — don’t worry, team founder Blessin has already claimed a role for herself in the future production — those plans are still a long way off.
“One day,” she said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
See clips from the Q&A below:
“Step” is available on DVD and iTunes on Oct. 17.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.