Brontez Purnell is an Oakland-based black gay filmmaker, musician, dancer, and writer. Hailing from Triana, Alabama, he relocated to the Bay Area at 19, began playing in bands, touring North America, South America and Europe many times. Purnell began studying African and modern dance in Oakland, where he joined several companies before launching Brontez Purnell Dance Company in 2009.
ince 2008, he’s produced and directed 15 music videos for his band, The Younger Lovers, as well as friends’ bands. Many collaborators in these early videos continued to grow in the medium including Justin Kelly, Seth Bogart, and Travis Mathews; they continued to push Purnell’s experiences artistically and with production experience by bringing him onto their projects. Mathews cast Purnell in his film I Want Your Love, both the short (2010) and the feature (2012.)
ext, Purnell collaborated with cinematographer Gary Fembot on Free Jazz. A 23-minute experimental dance and music film shot on 16mm, Free Jazz, documents and imagines happenings and improvisation in music and through choreographed works by Brontez Purnell Dance Company. A series of episodes set to Purnell’s score, the film features both a 60s Velvet Underground feel and a futuristic, shamanistic aesthetic.
In 2015, Purnell completed 100 Boyfriends Mixtape an on-going experimental featurette that follows a young Oakland gay black man looking for sex and love. Written and directed by Purnell, the film is currently being shown internationally and nationally.
Back in 2013, Purnell screened Free Jazz at The Luggage Store Gallery. Gallery director Darryl Smith showed it to his sister Amara Tabor-Smith, choreographer and dance lecturer at Berkeley. Amara Tabor-Smith then invited Purnell to be a part of a 5-hour traveling site-specific San Francisco-based dance project honoring her old teacher Ed Mock. Rather than absorbing all the public’s interest in Mock, this highly celebrated 2013 choreography project sparked enormous new energy in Mock’s legacy within a new generation of dancers, choreographers, and performers.
Purnell immediately became intrigued with Mock’s life, seeking materials and footage and finding very little to be publicly accessible. Purnell decided to take the inspiration from Tabor-Smith’s time based performance and create a film work that can be seen widely, and for years to come.
He has written 3 books and worked for SF Weekly. He counties to do art lectures nationally and internationally as well as touring with his band the Younger Lovers. He is the winner of the 2018 Whiting Award for fiction and recently received the Fire Island Art Residency.