Ian Iqbal Rashid is switching things up. His debut feature, Touch Of Pink, cleverly mashed up the mixed-race gay couple story and the ethnic comedy, all with a nod to Cary Grant. His latest, How She Move, is a more traditional urban underdog film set against the world of step dance. Paramount Vantage picked up the film a year ago at Sundance.
Does it feel weird not to be at Sundance? Your two features both played there and picked up distributors.
Actually, it’s a relief. It’s a tough festival. It’s hard to get screenings and get noticed, but it’s been very good to me. In both cases, the reaction to my films exceeded my wildest expectations.
What’s your dance background?
Nil. I was just a fan. I love the old MGM Busby Berkeley musicals. And when I was coming of age in the 70s and 80s, movies like Saturday Night Fever and Fame had a huge hold on me. Those kids were trying to move on and out and get a better life. I grew up in Flemingdon Park, an immigrant neighbourhood that’s very much like How She Move’s Jane and Finch. So they struck a chord with me.
Did you study those movies to see how they cut and captured dance?
Absolutely. What I love about Saturday Night Fever is that some of the dance takes are really long. It’s not a cutty movie. I love the pleasure of seeing the body in motion, uninterrupted. We went hand-held and shot on Super 16, which allowed us to follow the movement and get close without cutting in. I think it gave the movie an edgier feel and a sense of movement.
It doesn’t feel like an indie film. Has our idea of an indie film changed?
Yeah. You can have The English Patient or a $100,000 movie that shows at Sundance. To be fair, after Sundance, Paramount bought the film and injected a bit more money into it so we could enhance the music. We rescored it with an orchestra, which helped build the feeling of bigness. At its core, it’s still a movie that was shot in 25 days.
Tell me about Paramount’s involvement. There are shout-outs to the T-dot and Scarborough, and head crew JSJ is called the Jane Street Junta. But it seems to have moved to New York.
You’re not the only one who’s brought this up. It was always set in Toronto, they were always meant to go to Detroit, and their competing team was always from Brooklyn. Paramount’s promoting it as a Canadian film. It’s recognizably Toronto. It’s a Caribbean community that could only exist in Toronto.We actually shot it in Hamilton, but the aesthetic is Jane and Finch, with its high-rises and hydro fields. We never wanted to disguise its Canadianness, but we also didn’t want to show people eating maple syrup with shots of the CN Tower.
As a gay director, do you bring something different to a genre picture like this?
I think I do. Some people have pointed out that the lead character (played by Rutina Wesley) isn’t presented as a typical young woman in a hiphop movie. She’s strong, tough and appealing, but not in a hoochie way.
And I always read the character of Quake (Brennan Gademans) as gay. He wasn’t scripted that way, but to me he screamed out as gay. I felt a real affinity with him, and I think gay audiences will, too. He’s a character lots of outsiders will identify with.
On how and why he got involved in the film:
On how he got strong performances from his (mostly inexperienced) actors:
On the difference between being a director and a poet:
Shawn Desman cuts loose in How She Move.
HOW SHE MOVE (Ian Iqbal Rashid) Rating: NNN
How She Move goes through some of the same motions as many inspirational urban underdog films before it but surprises with its strong performances and exciting dance sequences.
Newcomer Rutina Wesley plays Raya, a private-school kid who returns to her Jane-Finch corridor home after her junkie sister’s death. There, she reluctantly enters the competitive step dance scene, setting her sights on the inevitable cash prize from the inevitable competition that’ll solve all her monetary problems, if not her personal ones.
There’s no way to successfully step through all the holes in the script, but director Rashid (Touch Of Pink) wisely concentrates on the dance sequences and gets energetic, lived-in performances from his young cast.