I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Have you ever watched a movie where you got so wrapped up in the story that, by the end, the characters felt like your own blood and family? It’s pretty common among television series, because we spend so much time with a show’s cast as they journey from one season to the next. But to get those feelings from one, singular film, and an 83-minute documentary film nonetheless — that’s when you know you have something great on your hands.
STEP is one of these rare feats.
It’s not the STOMP THE YARD or STEP UP movie you think you know. While it may feature a high school step team living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, STEP captures its story through a different lens and takes you deep into the lives of its subjects. The world is against them, yet through the help and encouragement of their coaches, counselors and family members, the senior girls at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women are able to find hope for a promising future.
For first-time filmmaker Amanda Lipitz, it was how her city was being portrayed in the news that led her to make STEP. She discussed how when we turn on the television, all too often our focus goes toward negativity. But Lipitz made it her mission to show that not all cities are as dangerous as the media paints them.
“I was born and raised in Baltimore, and I didn’t like what the world was saying about it. The idea with the film was to show that this city could be any city in America. All we see are stories of despair, but not so much about hope,” Lipitz said. “Whether it’s Chicago or Dallas, there are pockets of hope in every city.”
Many of the young women at the Baltimore Leadership School will be first-generation college students. Paula Dofat, the school’s director of college counseling, was certainly the first in her family to attend college. Through her own discovery of support, she found her destiny was to help others find it as well.
“I didn’t really have a lot of people around me as an only child. My father was a New York City detective and I was pretty sheltered,” Dofat recalled. “I didn’t understand the concept of support. You don’t know what you need if you’ve never had it, but you do know something’s missing.”
As Dofat reached her adult years, she began to see what other families, siblings and support systems looked like. What she found was: You can’t really do much on your own.
“This is why I do what I do. I want to see people reach their full potential and blossom, because I know what it’s like to not have those people who surround you with their integrity, love and support.”
The most immediate aspect viewers will take notice of while watching STEP is its brutal honesty. The documentary doesn’t hold back in capturing these girls and their lives. It follows them at their most vulnerable states, as they struggle to maintain relationships with their parents, keep up their grades and find time for a social life.
“Anything we went through during the movie was going to happen whether the cameras were there or not,” said Tayla Solomon, one of the seniors on the school’s step team, who is now a college student. “It wasn’t like we were trying to hide anything or make sure they had the so-called ‘good parts’ of the movie. Everything happened and flowed. The cameras were just there to capture it all.”
Another student, Blessin Giraldo, described how it wasn’t the cameras that brought all of what we see out of the subjects. Their school and sisterhood were always there.
“We didn’t pay attention to what the filmmakers were doing,” Giraldo said. “I think that’s why our stories come across as so genuine and relatable. We didn’t put up a facade or change when the cameras were around, because we had a bigger purpose then that.”
That purpose is to cause audiences to dig in themselves and see what they can uncover. The world is constantly moving, and all we see is people pretending to be people they are not. With STEP and the touching stories inside, maybe more doors will open for people to love and appreciate reality again.
STEP is available Tuesday, Oct. 17 on DVD and Digital HD.
Bonus Features Include:
- Deleted scenes
- Director commentary by Amanda Lipitz
- Lethal Ladies Music Video
- “Step is Life”
- “The Lethal Ladies of BLSYW”
- “Insider the Rehearsal Room”