When the Beat Drops is killing the festival circuit. The film recently won the Outstanding Documentary Jury Award at Frameline Festival in San Francisco and is going to be in Outfest Los Angeles 2018. I got the chance to talk with the director of the film, Jamal Sims, to get an inside scoop on what it was like for him to work on the project and how it’s felt seeing how well it is doing. Check out our interview and be sure to get your tickets to the screening at Outfest on July 19th at 8:30 PM!
Javay Frye: What attracted you to the project?
Jamal Sims: I wasn’t out as a gay man in LA so I went to Atlanta for Black Labor Day Gay Pride weekend in ‘96 or ’97 and I was out at the club and I saw these guys do it [bucking] on the floor and they were doing it for maybe 3 or 4 hours non stop. And as a choreographer/dancer I was like “why don’t I know about this particular style.” I thought about the guys that were so good and I just wanted to know more.
I went to the park the next day and they had the battle in the park, they seemed so cool and it was so new to me. Since that first time I saw it, I had been wanting to do this, tell this story. I’ve wanted to do it for over 20 years. I had choreographed everything I had wanted to choreograph so I wanted to move into directing with something that was important to me. I rounded up a crew and shot a sizzle with Jordan Finnegan and then Randy and Fenton jumped on board and it took off.
JF: How did your dance background help you with directing this movie?
JS: My dance background helped because as a choreographer I always tried to tell a story through my dance. Even if it was just a simple dance beat I always thought there should be some type of story. I think that this is just a bigger way of storytelling.
JF: Do you incorporate bucking in the routines you choreograph?
JS: I have tried to incorporate bucking, even as of recent. I did the live action Aladdin with Will Smith, coming out in 2019 and I tried but I’m not great at it. It’s a technique, you can’t just get out there and do it, you have to study it. I have flourishes of bucking but I am not anywhere near the authority on bucking.
JF: How did you hope audiences would receive the film?
JS: I hoped that they would receive it exactly like it’s been happening. I hoped people would like the dancing but really love the story, of passion in doing what you want and following your heart.
JF: How do you think this film is going to impact young black queer people?
JS: As a young black kid myself, growing up knowing I was gay and not having any images or anybody to say “I can do that”, “oh that’s me” or “oh, you know they battled this type of prejudice and they got through it” — I hope there will be some young queer kids that will see the film and be like you know what I am going to go for it, whatever it is, even if it’s unpopular, because that’s what I feel and that’s what I am passionate about.
JF: What was your favorite part of shooting this documentary?
JS: My favorite part would have to be the dance battles. I love competition and I love being there in the raw presence of competitors that are going for it.
One particular night they got kicked out of the club and they did the battle in the street and that was actually my favorite part. They were battling in the street at 3 am and it was phenomenal.
JF: What response have you received since the film premiered?
JS: All love. I am literally overwhelmed by everyone, there’s a lot of people thanking me for making the film and in turn I’m thanking them for watching it. All I wanted to do was make a film that would make a difference in the world.
I have my parents and aunts and uncles who are a totally different generation and they have watched it 4 or 5 times because they had no idea. And it has changed their minds about a lot of social ideas that “this is for boys, boys dance like this; this is for girls, girls dance like this.” They have learned a lot about gender expectations and norms. It’s [this film] gonna make a difference.
JF: The film won the Outstanding Documentary Jury Award at Frameline, how did that make you feel?
JS: It made me feel incredible, because this was just an idea. We started it 5 years ago, I planted the seed and to be at Frameline with a packed house and people standing up after the movie and then being awarded it is beyond what I thought could possibly happen. All I wanted to do was make a movie that could make a difference and I’m truly, truly grateful for that.
JF: The movie was picked up by Logo, how did that make you feel?
JS: Whoop Whoop, it’s all keeps getting better. I watch all of Logo’s content and they have, in my opinion the best LGBTQ content that’s out there. They push barriers and I am so proud to be a part of the Logo family and have my project there.
JF: What was the experience like, your first directorial debut?
JS: Because this is my first project it is very personal to me. With this, making this movie there were so many ups and downs there were times that I knew we had something great and there were times I was like “I don’t know” and times people were like, “I don’t know if it’s great.” The lesson of it all is that you just can’t stop. Even with our bad days I knew we had a great story, that really trumped everything. I am grateful for the experience and now I can’t wait to do something else. I’m ready to keep directing.
JF: Where can people see When the Beat Drops?
JS: We have Outfest coming up on the 19th at the Ford Ampitheater. I would love to invite everyone. Come watch it under the stars and celebrate the movie. Everyone in LA, I would love to see everyone there.
JF: What are you working on right now?
JS: I am finishing up Descendants 3 and I am in the process of working on another project I plan to direct. Hopefully I will be able to announce what it is really soon.
Check out the trailer for When the Beat Drops below and be sure to get your tickets to Outfest LA 2018 now!