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Documentarian finds herself in step with a dancer

In search of a compelling subject, an MFA student crosses paths with a freestyle street dancer

Two Trojans joined forces in a parking lot in South Los Angeles: a cinema alumna looking for a documentary subject and a graduate student who expressed herself through dance.

The result: a documentary called STAND that was an official selection at the 2014 Pan African Film Festival and recently nominated for the First Film Award in Documentary at the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ First Look Festival.

Melanie D’Andrea ’13, who earned an MFA from USC, was trying to find stories woven “in the fabric of Los Angeles.” She found one in an unlikely place — a 2 a.m. krump session featuring a type of freestyle street dancing with expressive, exaggerated movements.

After meeting Deidra Cooper, a krump dancer known as Krucial, D’Andrea knew she had found her documentary. The resulting film followed Krucial and the rest of her Demolition Crew who “when they dance are speaking about what life is like in the city,” D’Andrea said.

Krucial, a master’s student at the USC Rossier School of Education, remembers seeing the film for the first time.

“I almost cried because it met my expectations and exceeded them. It had elements of happiness, comedy, dramatic, real-life parts of death and struggle.”

Two different walks of life

Being chosen for the Pan African Film Festival was as special for the dancers as the director.

“We went to Pan African and it was amazing because for the krumpers, the cinema where it was displayed was the cinema that most of them grew up going to,” D’Andrea said. “We had a Q&A session afterward, and most of the questions actually went to the krumpers. Seeing people’s interest and belief in [the dancers] made the entire filming process worth it.”

The six-month production process brought together Trojans from two different backgrounds. D’Andrea is a film student graduate from Miami. Krucial is an LA native performing with The Underground, a street dance company led by dancers Lil C and Miss Prissy. The Underground performed at USC, and D’Andrea approached Krucial with her idea.

“We’re teaching krump and this lady comes up to me and is like ‘You know, I’m really interested in your story. I don’t know you, but I felt you on that stage and I would really like to do a documentary on you,’ ” Krucial explained. “She was trying to find something that blends modern-age protesting. Krump is our protest. It was a perfect match.”

Exploring the city through cinema

Krucial is a second-generation Trojan. Her mother went to USC and encouraged her to apply to graduate school. Although she plans to dance “til the day I die,” she wants to pursue a doctorate in education after she finishes her master’s degree and open up her own charter schools, recreational centers and tutoring centers in urban Los Angeles.

What Krucial loved most about the film was that it captured real life and actual struggles, including the culture of Chuco’s, a youth center dedicated to helping keep children off the streets. Krucial and the Demolition Crew host dance sessions at Chuco’s, and she hopes to be a positive influence in the community by being an example of how dance can turn people’s lives around.

“The film just gave me this boost like, ‘You can do it,’ ” Krucial said. “My push has been in overdrive now. I’m continuing to work at Chuco’s and continuing to be that example to uplift people from all walks of life.”

D’Andrea also wants to continue exploring the city through her films. She believes that most of her work, from documentaries about inner city teachers to her upcoming short on immigrant health for the USC Engemann Student Health Center, is about making the audience understand worlds other than their own.

“You can be in Beverly Hills and Hollywood and Santa Monica and never know what’s happening in South LA,” D’Andrea said. “I just really hope that Krucial’s vision comes to life. I hope that in five to 10 years, I get to see youth community centers all over Los Angeles founded by Krucial.”

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Documentarian finds herself in step with a dancer

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