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The bulk of the soundtrack from the independent
feature film "Our Song" comes from the unlikeliest
of sources: a marching band from Crown Heights.
But this is not your garden-variety marching band. For the 60 youngsters who make up the Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band, being part of this club isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life.
The Steppers are just one of the many groups to have come out of an after-school program called the Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture (JRC). This organization caters to young people ages 8 to 18 from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Fort Greene and Oceanhill-Brownsville. In total, the program reaches more than 5,000 students, who are able to take advantage of JRC’s academic instruction, sports and cultural activities, as well as counseling and workshops.
JRC has even been cited by the International Youth Foundation as one of the 30 best youth development programs in the world.
But the Steppers might be called the jewel in JRC’s crown. Not only does the band perform regularly at pre-game and halftime shows at Giants Stadium and Madison Square Garden, but they have also performed for mayors, governors and world leaders, including former President Bill Clinton and former South African Prime Minister Nelson Mandela. Not bad for some kids from Brooklyn.
So it’s not surprising then that this band caught the eye of a writer and director named Jim McKay. The story of McKay’s "Our Song" goes a little something like this: McKay had just finished a draft of a script about the friendship between three girls. As luck or fate (or both) would have it, he took a walk one day and a parade went marching by. McKay was so inspired by the Steppers’ energy and talent that he decided to incorporate the idea of a band into his screenplay.
Sometime later, as he was searching for the perfect band to star in his film, he found out just who he had seen that day. One thing led to another, and before long, he had cast the Steppers to play themselves.
To add to the reality of the film, McKay had his three lead actresses - Melissa Martinez, Kerry Washington and Anna Simpson - join the real Steppers under their characters’ names. As part of filming, they were required to attend Steppers rehearsals. And the band’s real-life leader, Tyrone Brown, also played the band’s leader (Mr. Miller) in the movie.
What really gives "Our Song" its sense of authenticity are McKay’s script and the performances of his cast. The fact that many of the actors are non-professionals - something that might normally be considered a liability - contributes to the film’s overall believability.
And of course there’s McKay’s surprisingly natural dialogue. His mastery of the subject matter is even more impressive considering that he’s a middle-class, white male, creating a film about black and Hispanic girls. However, McKay has had some experience in this area; his first feature film "Girls Town" (1996), starring Lili Taylor, also dealt with a group of ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged young women.
What is refreshing about McKay is his respect and admiration for these characters - apparent in every frame, as is his desire to let them tell their own stories, rather than attempt to co-opt them.
It’s obvious that McKay’s affection for his characters also extends to the actors responsible for bringing them to life. During filming he started a mentorship program, pairing kids in the band off with crew members in an effort to teach them a little bit about filmmaking. McKay has also helped, and continues to help, raise money for the marching band.
Recently, cast, crew, their friends and family, as well as members of the press were invited to a screening of "Our Song" at BAM Rose Cinemas, where the film will open on June 8. The after-party featured remarks from McKay, a wine-and-cheese spread and a DJ, but all of that was overshadowed by a special performance from the Steppers, who received thunderous applause.
"Our Song" will be screened
at the BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave.) beginning June 8.
Call (718) 636-4157 or visit www.bam.org for show times. Tickets
are $9, $6 for students, seniors and children under 12. To find
out the latest information about "Our Song," visit
the film’s Web site at www.oursong.net.
Donations to the Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture are tax-deductible and can be mailed to: The Jackie Robinson Center, 1424 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY 11216. Make checks payable to: The Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture, memo: "Our Song donation for instruments/uniforms."
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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