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"Bouncing Cats" Explores A New Way To Save Uganda

Roselle Chen |
November 4, 2010 | 4:28 p.m. PDT

Senior Entertainment Editor

Bouncing Cats (Red Bull Media House)
Bouncing Cats (Red Bull Media House)
This film was seen at Outside the Box Office, part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts free film screening program. For the current calendar, click here. To join their mailing list, click here.

Uganda’s civil unrest has been captured hopelessly through the years by films like “The Last King of Scotland” and the “Rise and Fall of Idi Amin.” During Amin’s reign, he killed 300,000 of his own people and “expressed no regrets.” And though Amin was overthrown and forced into exile in 1978, other insurgencies rose up; one of the most deadly being the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“Bouncing Cats” will not uplift you. You will walk out of the theater slightly depressed. But it will give you that small spark of hope that though the people of Uganda have faced immense tragedies, the children still possess a tenacious desire to learn; to be happy; to be better. Their innocence is preserved and is what marks the path for the certainty of change.

The documentary uses the power of hip-hop to spark that change. Abraham “Abramz” Tekya founded a dance school called Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU), a free workshop that teaches youth about b-boy culture and empowers them in positive ways to express themselves using an art form that originated in the South Bronx in the 1970s.

And though the kids know the foundation to breaking, they incorporate many of their tribal dances into the steps, making it theirs.

“Hip-hop owes Africa,” said K’Naan, one of the interviewees of the film.

Centered around Abramz, the camera follows him as he invites Crazy Legs from the Rock Steady Crew (credited for inventing the windmill move) over to Uganda.

Crazy Legs, together with former member Servin Ervin (who now works at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records), and Y Not, journey together with Abramz through the slums of Kampala and Gulu to demonstrate the steps that pioneered a movement.

Sometime during the course of those eight days, Crazy Legs gets choked up by the immensity of it all. He thought he grew up poor in the Bronx, but sees the devastation that the LRA inflicted on civilians and knows that he didn’t have it as bad.

One heartbreaking scene has a member of BPU with his nose, ears and hands cut off by the LRA. He has no animosity towards them, and if they were to live in his village again, he would welcome them. All he wants to do is dance and live a normal life.

Abramz is the real star in the documentary. His goal is to raise enough money to establish a brick and mortar school for the kids so that they’ll have internet access, education and a place to dance.
As to the title of the film? Abramz had crowds repeat a rhyme while dancers danced due to the lack of stereo equipment in Uganda, turning the audience into unofficial beat boxers: “Bouncing cats, baboons and cats. Bouncing cats, baboons and cats. Bouncing cats, baboons and cats. Bouncing cats, baboons and cats.”
Although “Bouncing Cats” is narrated by Common and features interviews by Mos Def, K’Naan, and Will.I.Am, they were there “for flash,” said director Nabil Elderkin in a Q&A after the film. Their names are what will draw viewers in to see a much deeper issue in Uganda.
There could’ve been more dancing to show the skills of these students, but that’s not really point of the documentary. The b-boy culture is more of a vehicle, or seed, for something greater.
“Bouncing Cats” was funded by Red Bull Media House and initially you may be annoyed by all the gratuitous use of product placement on Crazy Legs. He wears a Red Bull jersey in one scene, is drinking a Red Bull in another, is wearing a Red Bull cap in the next, is wearing a Red Bull t-shirt in the next, and so on.
But producer Nyla Hassell explained that only certified athletes could wear their logo, and at the end of it all, the overall message is for such a good cause that you won’t care anymore.
“It’s a lot more than a movie, we’re looking at it as a fundraising opportunity for BPU,” said Hassell.
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