25 years after Paris is Burning, we dive back into the fierce world of voguing battles in the Kiki scene of New York City, where competition between Houses demands leadership, painstaking practice, and performances on point. A film collaboration between Kiki gatekeeper, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, and Swedish filmmaker Sara Jordenö, we’re granted exclusive access into this high stakes world, where tough competitions act as a gateway into the daily lives of LGBTQ youth of color in NYC. The new generation of ballroom youth use the motto, “Not About us Without Us”. Twiggy and Sara’s insider-outsider approach to their stories breathes fresh life into the representation of a marginalized community who demand visibility and real political power.
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★★★★½ review by sprungbok on Letterboxd
omg my mum ended up joining me for this and started asking me questions about trans stuff, pronouns, terminology etc. and we had a chat about it, she was really receptive and interested and it made me really happy and excited. i told her i loved talking to her about this stuff and loved that she was asking questions so she kept asking questions throughout, whenever she wasn't sure about something! it was such a beautiful experience, i explained to her why there's a Q at the end of LGBT, i explained they/them pronouns, and many other things... it just made me really happy and reminded me of the value of communication and education - and showed me how vital it is for the uninformed party to be eager to learn; to be interested! to recognise that they may be wrong. to be prepared to change their perspectives. the fact that my mother was doing all of these things was incredible. this was such a special movie experience for me. even little things were exciting (and this is really little, like, basic human decency, but considering my parents' upbringing and personalities it's exciting), for example, my mother talking about a trans woman and saying "she's such a beautiful girl"... using the correct pronouns, without me having to tell her! i know that's basic human decency and i'm not trying to applaud or make a big deal of it, it's just heartwarming to see my mum understanding and being so open. i'm really happy this evening. :') <3
★★★½ review by Steven Cohen on Letterboxd
I've never seen Paris Is Burning, but I might after watching Kiki to get a sense of how movements such as this one evolve over the years. These days, the "kiki" scene in New York City's Greenwich Village is a place for inner-city LGBT youth to congregate and find acceptance apart from an otherwise hostile community. Director Sara Jordenö shows the viewer the glamor of the de facto alliance, while also providing glimpses into the personal lives of the members who participate. Their struggles are alternately heart-warming and heart-breaking, each in its unique way. These stories lend a necessary backbone to the eye-opening documentary.
★★★½ review by Jacob on Letterboxd
I appreciate any documentary that gives a platform to trans and gender non-conforming and queer people of color and allows them to speak openly about their experiences. The ballroom scene in New York has a rich history and this documentary reminds me that though the balls have changed quite a bit since the days of Paris is Burning, they still exist, and for many people, they are life-saving.
Sara Jordenö's direction leaves a lot to be desired. Her approach to documentary filmmaking is different than Jenny Livingston's, and I certainly don't prefer it. Whereas Livingston keeps herself out of her documentary, Jordenö is both seen and heard in hers. While the people she showcases have a lot of great things to say, her interviews with them feel a bit amateurish at times. The shots here are decently composed, nothing unusual for a documentary, but they pale in comparison to those in Paris is Burning.
I don't usually rate films on a basis of comparison like this, but this film kind of asks for it. Paris is Burning was the past, and Kiki is the present. I wish it was better crafted and included a bit more history (as there's still so much I don't know), but the discussions of issues within the LGBTQ community (homelessness, HIV, the threat of violence and murder, sexual exploitation/abuse, etc.) made this certainly worth the watch. Also, obvious point: there are some FANTASTIC dancers showcased here.
★★★★ review by Allison on Letterboxd
Queer Film Challenge Week 17: “Paris is Burning”
If I wasn’t watching this for the Queer Film Challenge as a replacement/compliment for Paris is Burning I would leave this commentary aside because this doc absolutely stands on its own and I don’t want anyone thinking based on all these reviews that you need some knowledge of PiB to see this film.
This is a terrific moving portrait of queer culture in NYC through the lens of several people involved in the kiki/ball culture scene.
I haven’t seen Paris in a while, so some of my memory of it could be off (I might modify this when I get around to a rewatch of it) but if memory serves Paris is much more directly focused on ball culture and delves a bit less than Kiki does on what goes on beyond the balls. Kiki is a bit broader in scope, picking several people involved in the ball scene to focus on and tell their story. Personally, I prefer this approach as I feel like I have a much broader view of who makes up ball culture and how they are using that strength of community for a larger purpose. But there’s value in both and I hope anyone who comes away from Kiki wanting a more comprehensive view of this history of ball culture does seek out Paris is Burning as well.
I was lucky enough to see a screening with several of the performers present for a Q&A as well and if you have the opportunity to do so I recommend it. They’re a really smart diverse group and you’ll get to hear some great commentary on the intersectional nature of their activism and the queer community and ball culture as well as fun, moving stories about what it’s meant to meet other youth in smaller scenes that are springing up internationally.
Also for anyone aware of any of the Paris is Burning controversy, the idea for this film came about from those within ball culture. They went and found a director to tell their story and had a high level of collaboration in shaping the film. It's terrific to see more documentaries moving towards collaboration rather than exploitation.
★★★½ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
There’s indebtedness and then there’s indebtedness. There’s Paris is Burning and then there’s Kiki.
In any other space, the similarities between Sara Jordenö’s revisit to the NYC ball scene (though this time around, the younger splinter, Kiki) and Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary would be a cause for concern. But here, the homage to the queer lineage is welcome. And, given the much publicised misgivings around Livingston's methods, the gestation of this community-driven follow-up warrants celebration.
With the help of the Kiki community, primarily Twiggy Pucci Garçon, founder of the Opulent Haus of PUCCI Jordenö gains access to the lives of a number of the current scene's key players, each providing an invitation into to their personal lived experience as young-people-of-colour growing up queer and trans*. The stories are compelling, sometimes uplifting sometimes heartbreaking. What is most pertinent is the level of control these kids have taken over their lives with the help of their Kiki families.
Jordenö and Pucci Garçon, who co-wrote the documentary, provide a brief history of the ball scene in New York, stretching back to the 1930s, with structural similarities with Paris is Burning giving another stepping stone to the more politically active scene of today. Kiki balls are stocked with LGBT youth groups and activists and the activities of some of the house mothers and fathers takes their message to the White House and beyond.
If there is a downside to Jordenö’s focus on the community’s activism, it is the impact on the film’s tone. Obviously the balls are political acts in themselves but this gets lost in the mix. Jordenö doesn't quite find a way to thread the vibrant intensity of the walks through the more mundane, often more painful, lives the kids are escaping. The tools are there: the soundtrack by dance collective, Qween Beat, pumps and some more-staged dance numbers, which interspersed throughout, bring snap edits, colour and movement, but the effect is to break the film up rather than bring it together.
Lack of aesthetic binding is a minor concern though. The impact of the film is still immense. The resilience of the ball community and the incredible work these kids are doing to inject fabulousness and fierceness into their lives and into the world at large endlessly impresses. It is heartening to see how much the world has changed and heartbreaking to see how much it hasn’t.
But if there is anything Kiki makes clear, it is that these are the kids who can finish the job.
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