‘FREE: The Power of Performance’ is a documentary that was created to tell the stories of young dancers at the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company in Oakland, California. The five students the film follows include Nee Nee, Jamany, Omar, Alaysia, and Tilly, all of whom are struggling with their own personal battles but work through them with the power of expression through dancing.
Suzanne LaFetra and David Collier, both producers and directors of the film, knew there was something special about this group of Destiny Arts kids as soon as they saw them performing on stage for the first time.
“We were really blown away, not only because the young people were such talented dancers, but it was the combination of the subject matter they were dealing with which largely was their own stories and the identity politics that a lot of young people are dealing with,” LaFetra said.
Following the performance, LaFetra and Collier contacted Destiny Arts about potentially creating a film revolving around the students at the academy and how they tell their stories through the art of dance.
“When someone can do that (storytelling) artfully, it catches my eye,” LaFetra said.
The cast and crew reunited in January for a screening of the broadcast-length version of the documentary. This version of the film has been launched in hopes to get more stories heard across communities.
Sara Needham, co-producer of the documentary, described what it was like to catch up with the students of Destiny Arts and what she hopes will happen for young people with the release of the broadcast-length version of the film.
“It is amazing to see how their stories have continued to develop beyond the film,” Needham said.
LaFetra added how special it was that she and Collier got to interact with the older versions of kids from the film, again.
“That was pretty neat to see how they had grown up and matured and also to see what their relationships were like now as older people; what it was like for them to look at this film and see that version of themselves when they were younger,” she said.
LaFetra explained how she hopes this film will promote more discussions in school about speaking your truth and the importance the arts have with self-expression.
“People who watch it whether they are policymakers, parents, or PTA, or other people in positions of authority to know that this [the arts] isn’t just a frivolous, extra thing … This (the arts) is actually giving young people a voice and a safe space to process what is going on with them,” she said.
The story of the students at Destiny Arts are inspiring not only young people or dancers through the film, but any person who needs help in seeing their own creativity and potential they have in using their voices for expression.
Needham has hopes that schools across the nation will screen the film to raise awareness of the importance of the arts and speaking your truth.
“Art and self-expression is an outlet for telling stories … People (in the dance field) talk about it (the power of dance) all of the time, but now we have something that actually shows it,” she said.
The film not only showed the importance of setting yourself free through self-expression, but how telling your story can make a difference and connect you to others.
“Empathy and kindness go hand in hand … the more empathetic and kind we can be to ourselves the more we can be connected to each other,” LaFetra said.
Because of the courageous efforts of the young people in the film who were brave enough to share their stories, there is hope that others across the nation will see this film and be inspired to speak their own truths. You never know what audience you may reach or what person needs to hear your story in order to for them to come forward with their own truth.
“I hope the film continues to ignite conversation and inspiration,” Needham said.
Watch the trailer for ‘FREE: The Power of Performance’ below, or go to freethedocumentary.com for more information about the film.