Chaz Ebert cohosted a sold-out screening of the award-winning documentary, STEP, with DePaul University at the school’s CDM Theatre on Saturday afternoon.
Following a year in the lives of a small group of high school seniors who are members of the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Girls (BLSG), the film celebrates the rewards of hard work, commitment, and discipline.
Step, the dance, is a form of rhythmic choreography featuring handclaps and foot stomps that accompany call and response style vocals. It’s a funky and graceful kind of syncopated drilling that requires a lot of practice and memorization.
Besides showing the team’s dedication to get the moves down, the film also documents their family lives and their efforts to go to college, hopefully by way of a scholarship.
The murder of Freddie Gray by a Baltimore policeman, which took place during filming, also impacts the story.
“Step dance inspires the students to process the world around them,” says Chaz. “They incorporate some of the politics into their step routines, which are brilliant.”
A blogger, media personality, and wife of late Chicago legend Roger Ebert, Chaz feels that STEP is a must-see, especially for today’s youth.
“The underlying message of the film is that education matters and that education is something to strive for,” she explains. “I cohosted the screening because I hoped it would inspire young filmmakers and young people in general.”
STEP was directed by Amanda Lipitz and has won numerous awards since it premiered earlier this year, including the Sundance Documentary Special Jury Prize and the AFI Docs Festival Audience Award.
It has also won Chaz’ approval on three consecutive occasions.
“The first time I saw it, I loved it,” she recalls. “The second time I saw it, I thought that it was edited very well. This time, it was rewarding to confirm how joyous it really is.”
Saturday’s event included special guests from the DePaul & CHA Documentary Film Camp, a five-week program that pairs high school girls with DePaul faculty to produce four distinct films on social topics.
Also in attendance was Reel Chicago publisher Barbara Roche, who described the afternoon as “moving and inspirational.”
“There was barely a dry eye in the house when the film ended,” she says. “STEP is exceptional, and I am not the only one who feels that it was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for best documentary.”
During the post-screening Q&A, director Amanda Lipitz Skyped in to field questions from the audience. A student considering a career in film told her that her movie was “ridiculously good.”
“That was high praise,” says Chaz.