Coury Deeb is a self-described storyteller, thrill-seeker, and philanthropist. Through the medium of film, he uses all of these to help change the world and make people think. The branding of his Nadus Films production company is: Making films that make a difference. With three feature-length movies under his belt, Coury is well on his way to doing both.
At the age of 18, Coury chose to leave his home in Louisville, Kentucky to join a small group of socially conscious young people who wanted to experience a life of poverty and social injustice in North Philadelphia, while using the transformative power of community to change the landscape. With only six dollars a day to live on, Coury and his six housemates moved into a dilapidated brownstone and made the ghetto their home for one year.
Murder, violence, gun shots and police activity were a regular routine in this neighborhood. However, what might deter or frighten some only inspired Coury to delve deeper and lay down roots. A year later, he purchased a three-story brownstone and made Philadelphia home, taking courses in photography, getting married, and building a life there. Living and working in this economically depressed environment showed Coury that he not only had a knack for survival, but for finding the richer story and locating ways to bring God’s redemption in the midst.
All this would come full circle in 2003, when he met Celestin, a Rwandan speaker at his church who was doing humanitarian work in war-torn Sudan. Coury felt a strong conviction to go to the Sudan to take photographs that would tell the story of these people, and offered his services. Celestin accepted, and a few months later, Coury found himself on a plane to the Sudan. That trip, and its resultant images, gave birth to The New Sudan, his first documentary about the Sudanese Civil War, the brokenness of the country, and what the people might face for their future.
Coury’s first feature film became the launch point for his new career. In 2005, he formed Nadus Films (“Nadus” is “Sudan” spelled backwards) which seeks partners on the ground in countries combating issues of injustice, violence, and poverty. “One, they help us find our stories that make central characters in the films, and two, we give back to the communities that help make the films possible,” Coury explained.
Once in the country, Coury’s team locks arms with these partners to produce a project that will allow other peoples and nations to collaborate in the vision and recovery. Call it New School Missionary work: instead of sweeping in to evangelize then leave, the team implants within the culture to hear their stories and document the real needs. The goal is transformation through a deeper connection to the people, as well as inviting audiences to not only connect to their plight, but contribute toward the redemption.
Coury’s latest documentary film, BBoy for Life, tells the story of gang life and break dancing in Guatemala. At the risk of their own lives, a group of young men and women band together to express their art through break dancing, and combat the darkness and death of the gang culture that permeates the streets where they live.
I asked Coury how this story came to him. “Prior to entering into pre-production we do scouting trips. We went with our producers to visit friends who have an organization in Guatemala City to do some research. We knew gang violence could play a large role in the film.”
The organization placed them in a quiet suburb outside of the city limits, but this left Coury and his crew restless. “When we land places, we look for where the story is. The story is in the ghetto, where there's a lot injustice.”
So Coury asked the organization to do just that: drop him in the heart of the ghetto; but not just any ghetto—one of the most dangerous in Guatemala City. The effectiveness of this method is evidenced in the stories the movie brought into focus.
“In our time there, we learned about the BBoys and what they were doing. A lot of them dance because they enjoy it, and it became an outlet for them to avoid the adolescent pressure to join a gang.”
There are over 70,000 active gang members in Central America, and in Guatemala, the only way to leave a gang is in a coffin. BBoys (and BGirls) are hunted and killed by the gangs, so the BBoys literally dance under threat of death. Yet they choose art over evil, and desire to inspire others in their generation and the next to do the same.
The film chronicles the stories of Cheez, Gato, and Leidy. Cheez is a charismatic BBoy who trains dancers, and forms the Poker Crew, a group of men and women who break dance and compete throughout Central America.
Twenty-one year old Gato bears the scars of his brother’s murder by gangsters. Gato’s brother refused to give up the names of BBoys in the neighborhood, and paid for his loyalty with his life.
Leidy’s story is the most powerful and compelling. A self-described “active gang member”, 34-year-old Leidy, has just been released from prison, and is trying to reconnect with her two sons, who are now teenagers. Through her exposure to the BBoys, Leidy finds hope and discovers a way out of gang life for herself and her boys.
Coury’s cinematographer’s eye is evident in each frame of the film, as well as his websites promoting B-Boy for Life, Nadus Films, and More Art Less Evil. He understands visual appeal, and the pacing and editing of the film use this effectively. Coury’s websites are a feast for the senses. The More Art Less Evil and Nadus Films sites have a sleek and impactful look, and navigate better than some big budget production websites.
Coury’s team first had other dancers in mind to spotlight. Through various circumstances, these candidates did not work out, so Coury and his team had to mine through the film’s raw material for the locus of the story. “Cheez was the trainer for the original dancers, and we met up with him at the gym, and heard his story. Then we met the Poker Crew. We were drawn to them immediately, and they were excited about [the project].”
This was not Coury’s first time at the rodeo, and he requested the organization on the ground provide security for him and his crew. The people suggested Leidy, who literally had a few more days left on her prison sentence. Coury was at first apprehensive.
“They said to me, ‘She's wrestling with a lot right now, and she knows the streets, and we trust her.’ Because she was with us constantly, and she asked about what we were doing, why we were doing it, she got to see another pathway that she had never been introduced to. So it was kind of divine the way the whole thing happened.”
Coury does not believe in leaving the area the same as when he came, or forgetting about its people once the production is over. “We do our best to stay in touch with those who help to make our whole film possible.”
Thanks to a scholarship raised through BBoy for Life, Leidy is currently attending school, and is the valedictorian of her class. Cheez has been was invited to attend the premieres of the film in the U.S. and tell his story about training the Poker Crew.
Through their experience on the film’s set and the influence of the filmmaker, the principals of the film have each begun a journey of faith. What path that journey will take is in the Lord’s hands. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:16: I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
“I can tell you I have had very rich conversations with all of them, and it's been really encouraging. There are a lot of struggles down there, especially post-filming. But they are still staying strong. In fact we plan to bring them here to the States, and let Leidy stand before hundreds of people and talk about her time on the film and how it transformed her life and helped her out of the gang.”
Because of the influence of Leidy, Cheez and the BBoys, this transformation will automatically spread to others, and in turn, transform the nation of Guatemala.
“You just hope to unleash it and that it takes the right current—and it has,” Coury concluded.
The documentary film is set for limited release first in El Paso on Friday, April 11, then in San Antonio and Bronx, NY on Thursday, April 17. Even before these theatrical premieres, the movie is already making a huge impact.
BBoy for Life has been selected as an Official Selection at the Bronzeville Film Festival, the A3C Hip Hop Film Festival, and the Cincinnati Film Festival. It has received an Honorable Mention at the NYC Independent Film Festival, an Audience Choice Award at the Cate Santa Barbara Film Festival, and has won Best Documentary Direction at the Cincinnati Film Festival.
Probably the biggest validation of Coury’s vision and mission was a Global Private Screening of the film at the United Nations on April 4. This is the equivalent of a worldwide premiere, without an international distributor. After the screening, Coury was asked be a part of a panel, along with world ambassadors to discuss gang violence and ways to combat it.
“A whole lot of communities struggle with similar issues, including the States. It's an international problem, not just a Central American problem.”
Coury desires that the film “shines light where there is darkness. To use Cheez, Gato and Leidy as an example: to encourage and equip. I believe it will be an impactful message and story to create works of art that will effectively fight evil.”
You can find more on Coury’s work at More Art Less Evil or at Nadus Films. You can also check out the film’s website BBoy For Life, and even request to have a screening of the film in your area.