Director named for JITTERBUG dance movie

Posted 15 May 2024 at 10:04 pm

Phil Berry of Medina bringing his love for Lindy Hop to big screen

Press Release, JITTERBUG movie (Produced by Phil Berry of Medina)

Photo of Shayla Racquel by Chuck Marcus.

MEDINA – Shayla Racquel, director of a 2021 John Singleton EmbRACE Initiative winning project, has signed on to direct JITTERBUG, the Lindy Hop and Hip-Hop dance independent feature film produced by SoftCloud Films and shooting this summer in Sweden.

Former Boston Celtics legend Danny Ainge, now CEO of Basketball Operations for the Utah Jazz, is an executive producer and investor in the film.

“We’re thrilled to have Shayla direct JITTERBUG,” says producer Phil Berry. “She brings enthusiasm and energy as well as a thoughtful, candid approach to her productions, and her body of work is stellar. She’s exactly what this project needs.”

JITTERBUG is a contemporary coming-of-age story and an homage to Black dance heritage, specifically Lindy Hop swing dancing. It’s the story of Izzy, a Black teen girl who travels to a Lindy Hop swing dance / Hip-Hop dance camp in Sweden and finds new confidence through dance, a deeper connection to her Black heritage through learning Lindy’s history, and a bit of summer romance in the land of the midnight sun.

“JITTERBUG was a no-brainer for me,” Racquel said. “It checked all the boxes. A coming-of-age story. A Black girl protagonist. All the chaotic energy that comes with her teenage angst and her growing relationships with her parents, her friends, and her new love. It’s a story of self-discovery, and Lindy Hop, such a crucial part of Black American history, helps her to not only discover herself but also discover her cultural identity. I read the script and thought, ‘Ab-so-lutely.’”

Writer and producer Phil Berry, an avid swing dancer, first conceived of JITTERBUG after a 2022 visit to the Herräng Dance Camp in Herräng, Sweden, about 70 miles north of Stockholm on the Gulf of Bothnia, where a well-established Swing Teens program has been operating for over 20 years.

“As soon as I saw all those teens dancing with so much skill, and so much joy, I knew this needed to be a movie,” Berry said.

He started writing the script on the plane ride home.

Berry’s vision for the film is a “rich, joyful tapestry of sound and movement,” he explained. “I hope kids will relate to Izzy’s  journey of finding herself through dance.”

Racquel agreed.

“I want this to be an immersive experience,” she said. “Swing dance is so powerful, so lively and energetic, and I want the audience to feel how lively and energetic it is, through color palettes, through camera movements. I’m excited to work with the cinematographer to create innovative shots. We want the camera to dance so the audience feels like they’re dancing too. I want the viewer to feel all those teenage feelings of falling in love, and of feeling like you don’t belong. Everyone’s felt that way, and has hopefully felt someone put their arms around them to reassure them. I want JITTERBUG to feel like a warm embrace.”

JITTERBUG also stars Chester Whitmore, a living Lindy Hop legend and beloved figure in the international Lindy Hop and vernacular jazz dance scene who has performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, and Miles Davis. His choreography and dancing have been on display in projects such as videos by Madonna (“Vogue”), Michael Jackson (“Smooth Criminal”), and the Oscar-winning La La Land.

Casting for the production is ongoing and is managed by Pemrick Fronk Casting. New York Times Bestselling author Julie Berry is an executive producer on the project. Danny and Michelle Ainge are executive producers and key investors in the film.

Racquel was a 2023 finalist for Shonda Rhimes’s Shondaland / Seriesfest Women’s Directing Mentorship. Her award-winning film, The Lifted, was acquired by AMC ALLBLK. Her film Riverment was acquired by Comcast Xfinity after winning a Student Emmy from the Capital Emmy chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Shayla was the lead director of two premiere shows for Keke Palmer’s KeyTV Network.

She’s been featured by the Washington Post & VIBE Magazine and was named one of OkayPlayer’s Up-And-Coming Directors That Should Be On Your Radar in 2021. She was a finalist for the National Black Arts Foundation’s Horizon Grant for Emerging Black Artists in 2023. Originally hailing from Columbia, South Carolina, Shayla now makes her home in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Florida A&M in Tallahassee and an MFA in film from American University in Washington DC.