Ahead of Let’s Dance International Frontiers 2017 I have had the privileged of interviewing Phoebe Driscoll Director of Pharaohs of Memphis. This is Phoebe’s international premier in the UK!
What inspired you to do a documentary about jookin? When I was in college, a friend of mine was hosting an art exhibition in downtown Memphis. One of the exhibits was a performance piece – a dance called “jookin” by Ryan Haskett. I was impressed by his moves and taken with his talent; we quickly became friends.
In 2014, I was accepted into a summer program at Rhodes College that provided stipends for extensive research projects. Initially, I was going to write about the origins of Memphis hip-hop, but I knew jookin factored into that world of music. And instead of writing a paper, I decided to make a documentary. You have to see the dance style to believe it.
How did you go about making the documentary? I was almost entirely on my own in terms of filming and editing, but my friends in Memphis were gracious with their time and support. I rented a camera from my library and followed Ryan around for the summer, shooting him dancing with his friends or in competitions.
Ryan introduced me to Lil Buck one afternoon so I could film him – right before he flew to L.A. for an interview with Katie Couric. My friend Sophie was first AC on a jookin competition shoot that went late into the night. My co-worker Sean let me use his editing software. People in Memphis are generous and patient and that’s how this student documentary became a feature-length film for around 500 dollars (plus gas money, because I didn’t have a car at the time).
Did you face any challenges during the making of the documentary? Absolutely. I knew about videography in theory, but I was just starting out. I didn’t know anything about audio or lighting or budgeting. I still cringe when I hear how rough the audio is in Pharaohs of Memphis. At the same time, I try not to be too hard on myself, because it was my first independent film project and it opened doors for me and I learned from my mistakes.
What did you enjoy most about producing the documentary? Where to start? Pharaohs of Memphis took me to Brooklyn with Lil Buck and Daniel Price and Ryan Haskett; it took me to the MOCA in Los Angeles. The film jump-started my career.
But I think back to that first summer, in the early stages of filming, and the nights I spent filming in the garages (“labs”) of jookin dancers around Memphis. Those were special nights. That’s where the dance feels like pure magic, like you have to experience it to understand its overwhelming importance to the Memphis community – and the world.
Were you previously associated with the jookin community? I only knew Ryan before Pharaohs of Memphis. Now, I’m friends with many jookin dancers. I still go to jookin events. I’m in a jookin group on Facebook. I can’t dance, though.
Are you currently working on any documentaries? I’m currently editing a historical documentary on the Memphis Massacre of 1866, an act of racialized violence that took place in the South, which everyone seems to have buried in the past. It’s quite a different pace than jookin, but it’s a fascinating project and I’m working with a great director.
This is your first international premiere in LDIF what are your thoughts and expectations on LDIF? I’m thrilled for Pharaohs of Memphis to have an international premiere! I’m grateful that you stumbled upon my rough-around-the-edges film and were kind enough to give it a chance. There are fantastic films screening at LDIF and I wish I could make it across the pond for this one!
Now you’ve heard from Phoebe herself you know this is not a film to be missed!