Hip to be old: Age no barrier to hip hop
Ninety-year-olds hip-hop dancing their way from Waiheke Island to Las Vegas is a novel idea for a documentary, and the sort of wacky premise viewers might dismiss as implausible in a narrative feature film.
But the story is real, and it is a great one.
Billie Jordan was queuing up for a Subway sandwich, during the lunch break of a job she had started five weeks earlier, when the Christchurch earthquake hit.
In that moment, she says, she knew if she was to survive the horrific day, she would move to Waiheke Island and live each day as if it was her last.
Jordan eventually made her way to Waiheke to devote her time to teaching hip-hop dance to the elderly. They named themselves, Hip Op-eration, after the operation that many were familiar with.
The dream of performing on stage at the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas led Jordan to quit her job and live off savings for eight months so she could direct the group fulltime.
"Seeing the changes in my crew members' personalities and seeing them become more confident in themselves and having a greater sense of self- worth kept me going," she says.
Cue a documentary crew to follow the group's hopes of getting to Las Vegas - and the bizarre story ticks all the boxes.
Hip Hop-eration, the documentary feature debut from director Bryn Evans, was shot in New Zealand and the United States over 8 months between 2012 and 2013.
Evans says staying in close contact with Jordan was crucial to make sure the crew did not miss any critical moments for the group. And it is these snapshots of the group's milestones and progress as a dance troupe that takes viewers on a breathtaking ride.
The film challenges audiences' perceptions of what old age means.
"One of the core things about this story that is really close to me is that no matter who you are, whatever age you are, you can stand up and do what you want to do, and you can make a change doing it," says Evans.
Jordan originally started the group as a flash mob - where people gather at a prearranged public location to perform, then quickly disperse - in Auckland in 2012. At the time Evans came on board there were about 45 members, which he says was overwhelming.
"I always felt that our characters were the centre of the story. When we started looking for characters that would be interesting to develop, people started to question whether the story was only going to be about these people, rather than the group."
While the film does look closely at a select few, the the story also emphasises the importance of the collective. The film is also much more than just a quirky premise; the group members are all genuinely interesting people in their own right.
Evans spent time working closely with the group, talking to them and even staying with them in their homes to get a feel for what they were about.
"There were about four or five people that we did a lot of filming with that never made it into the film, which is a sad situation because it is hard for someone to have a film crew with them for a couple of weeks and then not end up in the film."
It seems a common question surrounding documentaries starring pensioners on a lengthy journey, is, do they all make it to the end? And while the average age of the group is 80, with dancers aged between 67 and 95, as the movie shows, they did.
The film also shows that the journey to Las Vegas was not an easy one, with money, or the lack of it, a problem throughout. When the group made a breakthrough on how they were going to fund their adventure, Evans says it was something of a relief for the film- makers.
Jordan says she knew she could generate the publicity the group deserved, but was not prepared for the wider impact of her hip-hop crew.
"We get comments on our Facebook page from people who say they've been inspired by what we have achieved and it's spurred them into doing something new and challenging. Even if only one person's life has been improved by our actions, it is a massive compliment."
Many people have been touched by the group's courageous ventures. They have over 3000 likes on their Facebook page, and Evans says the passion of the group members was contagious.
And Jordan's life has changed significantly since she began her work with Hip Op-eration.
"The whole journey for me has been incredible. You can't spend a year of your life with a group of 70 to 90-year-olds and not be changed by it.
"I have learnt to trust people more. I didn't have faith in the human race, as I had only seen the bad side of humanity.
"Now I see the other side, where there is trust and friendship and love."
Coming up, Hip Op-eration have a big performance at the Taipei stadium in Taiwan this November. Jordan says their dream is to one day make it to the Bronx in New York, where hip-hop originated in the 1970s.
Hip Hop-eration is released in cinemas today.
The Dominion Post