YAK Films will show off Oakland-based Turf Feinz
at San Francisco Film Society's 'Cinema by the Bay'
By Lou Fancher Oakland Tribune Correspondent San Jose Mercury News
So far, 2013 has been a come-out year for Oakland films with "Fruitvale Station" taking top honors at the Sundance Film Festival and "Licks" pulling in the same at the Chelsea Film Festival in N.Y. Now YAK Films is the latest to join the crowd of Oakland-based films garnering broad recognition.
The Oakland-born production company whose viral YouTube videos are crafted by a three-man team -- Yoram Savion, Benjamin Tarquin and Kash Gaines -- will have its day on the big screen when the fifth annual San Francisco Film Society's "Cinema by the Bay" showcases their film "Dance Then and Now." The theatrical compilation of street dance videos featuring Oakland-based Turf Feinz will be shown at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Roxie Theater.
Savion is the company's ringleader, a 29-year-old who grew up in France, Berkeley and Oakland. After one film production class at UC Berkeley, he began teaching film at the East Oakland teen center, Youth UpRising. On the surrounding, gritty streets, "turfing" -- and Turf Feinz, the local group leading the revolutionary dance form -- was grinding its way into existence.
Whether "turf" derived from "Taking Up Room on the dance Floor" or a "my turf" mentality, the inner-city, mostly African-American young people at its origin eliminated any need for cinematic special effects. They were anatomical rerouters: defying the normal movement of shoulder and hip joints in moves both glorious and eerie, rolling lopsidedly on street corners like broken shopping carts and spiraling atop a sneaker-shod foot with the grace of classical ballet dancers.
On a broader scale, they were urban urchins, reflecting and deflecting the harsh realities of their violent, unpredictable lives by fearlessly dig-diving into cement, spinning ferociously on their heads or cocking their hands like pistols. Their dress -- pants hanging well below waistlines and baseball caps or hoodies casting shadows -- could not mask their individual and collective creativity.
Savion caught it on his Canon 7D camera -- with masterful, on-the-ground perspectives, blurred backdrops and blazingly accurate music. The Turf Feinz YouTube video, "RIP Rich D," with lush accompaniment from Yung FX, Erk tha Jerk & COOP, had over 5,000,000 views. Yak moved into making its own house music. Adidas hired them to make commercials. Prospective gang members chose pirouettes over pistols, peace over peril. They'd arrived and taken off, performing for millions and traveling in person to 21 countries around the world in the last three years.
In an interview from France, Savion said the films began with documenting the homegrown dance movement that has exploded onto the global stage. They include multiple contemporary street dances -- b-boying, popping, electro, and more -- and have been shot on a London bus, BART station escalators, international street corners, subways and construction sites.
"These challenges lead to new ideas about how to move, and how to film that movement. We've developed more techniques and ideas around how to film dance in urban environments, we've mastered different strategies that can lead us to freestyle storytelling," he said.
Music is the conductor directing the flow. Video is the frame, cut tight or clipped aggressively for forceful, dramatic energy. Dance is the language, articulating the good-out-of-pain message Savion said has never changed.
"Oakland's got this amazing opportunity with turf dancing, to promote an image of young people coming from the streets that is so dramatically opposed to the mainstream take on our chances as a community. People have been influenced all over the world by our young people's talent, skills and ambitions," he said.
Savion referred to the dancers' "at-risk," turbulent lives and said hyper-violent environments -- not just in Oakland but in impoverished or militarily-controlled communities worldwide -- create people with pent-up energy.
"I think we should consider people's history and situation before judging them, and way before pretending to know how to solve their problems, which are in reality, a reflection of our problems as a society," he said.
Dancing, he suggested, because it's real bodies doing real moves that are "not posturing, not metaphor," embodies real change. And his Oakland is a solidly rooted, complex city: the perfect platform for a contemporary notion of "home" as a fluid, ever-evolving entity.
Returning from rave audiences abroad and planning to move back to the Bay Area from his current home in Brooklyn, N.Y., Savion would like to see more local support for Yak Films' screenings and "battle" competitions.
"This could be used by public officials and the media to show positive answers to real problems that exist," he said. "People are striving to create safe spaces for young people to come together, share their energy and grow as a community."