Directed by Nick Rowley
Starring Ninja Sky, Connor Ninja, Lasseindra Ninja,
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
Part of the Shadow and Act programme at this year’s BFI Flare Film Festival, short documentary Still Burning, directed by Nick Rowley, is a piece of extraordinary physical cinema, capturing an intense ferocity through its central character’s desire to express himself.
The dance form voguing is a demanding combination of catwalk moves and self-expression, notably borrowed by Madonna, but has its roots in gay culture among black Americans in the 1970s. Like a rap battle for dancers, voguing is a competition between participants who are judged on several aspects of their dancing. One such dancer living and performing in Paris, Ninja Sky, forms the entryway in Still Burning, who is also welcoming his brother to the scene. Both are originally from Guadeloupe, where their homosexuality conflicted with the culture. Now, their fierce moves are being honed for the upcoming “ball”.
With a pounding dance and techno soundtrack and raw visuals, there is a commitment to tone in Rowley’s film that is commendable. Capturing the sheer physicality of the Ninjas, many sequences are shot using roving camera movements, almost as if to keep up with their protagonists, or simply as a byproduct of being in a room with them. There is an energy to Still Burning which had to be created and maintained, whilst still allowing the emotional moments to puncture it. These were delivered by Sky Ninja’s heartfelt interview moments, where he reveals the importance of voguing to him, the transformation it has allowed him to experience, and how he is literally witnessing the same thing happening to his brother.
Many films use dance as a starting point for their narrative. The theatricality it can provide is often more than enough visual stimulation for an audience to be engrossed into a movie, allowing the characters to then be unravelled with dance as their foundation. Rowley adopts this method in a similar fashion, but instead keeps dance as a formidable entity throughout, never letting it drop from the limelight, like it is as much of Sky Ninja as his words, experiences, or anything else. Sky Ninja himself reveals how powerful the movements have been for him. This is important, as it reveals the tender relationship between persons of social exclusion, and the cultural lifelines they find which can become essential parts of their survival. Still Burning is a celebration of these outlets, showing the immense gratification which can be found in communities which promote anything that makes you and others feel good.
Staying stylish throughout, and leaving the audience feeling breathless by the end, this is an explosion of movement and expression that keeps its focus on the extraordinary fulfillment being offered to a most select group of outsiders. This is as much body as it is mind, but also full of soul and joy right until its last step.