It’s been a while since the last Documentary Blog ‘Five Films’ feature, but I’m glad to be back with my latest selection of five highly recommended documentary films based on a similar theme. This time I’m looking at some movies that star kids. Now I’m not a huge fan of children. In fact, some would say that I actually despise them. But every once and a while there comes along a child that surpasses expectations, making an example of us cynical adults with some great before-their-time wisdom that’s shockingly inspirational, especially coming from the mouth of someone who’s in the earliest stage of their life. Yup, this one’s for all of the Macaulay Kulkin’s of the world. So sit back and get nostalgic, or severely depressed, and check out this selection of documentaries featuring some pretty interesting kids. Enjoy.
Director Don Argott’s ‘Rock School’ works for all of the same reasons that Richard Linklater’s ‘School of Rock’ worked. It’s a just a feel good look at a energetic kid-at-heart teacher living vicariously though a group of rag-tag kids as he attempts to transform them into rock gods. Filmed at the ‘Paul Green School of Rock Music’, the film follows the kids as they cut their teeth on some insanely complex (and borderline obnoxious) Frank Zappa tunes in preparation for a special performance at a Zappa festival in Germany. It’s pretty crazy watching some of these talented kids holding their own on stage, but the guts of the film are those moments that highlight the unusual student-teacher dynamic shared between Green and his kids. He’s definitely a hard-ass, and sometimes his brutal honesty with the kids may seem overly harsh. But as the film progresses, you realize that Green has nothing but respect for the kids and a genuine love of rock.
Edet Belzberg’s raw look into the lives of a group of street kids is something straight out of a Harmony Korine film. Not unlike Marc Singer’s ‘Dark Day’s’, Belzberg basically embedded herself into this group of homeless kids, as young as ten years old, as they live out their day to day lives huffing gold paint in the grimy subway tunnels of Bucharest, Romania. As sad as their lives are, there is a sense of family among the group, as dysfunctional as it may be. I’d have to say the strangest part of the film is seeing such young kids carrying themselves like adults. Very rarely are they acting like real children, outside of some rambunctious behaviour that only gets them into more trouble. Throughout the whole film I kept reminding myself that when the camera is around the kids, that means there’s an adult around the kids, begging the question ‘At what point should Belzberg intervene in any particular situation?’.
I suppose it’s debatable whether or not you could refer to freshman university students as ‘kids’, but for this occasion we’ll go with it. Trans Generation is a fascinatingly revealing 8 part series originally produced for the Sundance Channel. Director Jeremy Simmons follows four students attending four different universities as they deal not only with their books, grades and social lives, but their physical transition from one sex to the other. Gabbie, Raci, Lucas, and T.J. are all dealing with the fact that they feel trapped inside the wrong body. Raci, a male who lives his life as a female, resorts to buying black market hormones because she simply can’t afford the drug through official means. T.J. is a budding political activist whose Mother is struggling to accept her life as a male. Lucas, previously known as Leah, is in her beginning stages of becoming a man through hormone therapy. Finally, there’s Gabbie (born Andrew), a somewhat obnoxious and naïve anime and video game fanatic that is counting down the days until her sex change operation. This series requires a bit of an investment of time, but it’s completely worth it.
Kirby Dick (Sick, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Twist of Faith) brings us this experimental look at life as a high school student through the eyes of ten students at the Los Angeles John Marshall High School. Here’s how it works: Ten cameras were handed out to ten students for one week. The kids could shoot whatever they wanted, no holds barred. Once their time was up, the cameras were passed on to ten more students, and so on, and so on. The end result is a compilation of the most interesting cuts from an eclectic mix of cultures and lifestyles. The filmmaking may be somewhat raw, but the honest glimpse into these kids’ lives is both compelling and entertaining.
This is probably the most accessible film on the list, as its overall success can attest to. Mad Hot Ballroom is the definition of a ‘feel good film’. Director Marilyn Agrelo follows New York City fifth and sixth graders as they take a shot at ballroom dancing. Some start off shuffling their feet in boredom, faces completely void of any sense of enjoyment. But as the film progresses, the kids become more and more engaged in their lessons as they practice for the citywide finals. Watch as some dedicated teachers try their best to utilize this unusual extra-curricular activity to guide their kids down the right path, attempting to avoid the harsh reality and telling statistics that don’t fare well for kids who grow up in these particular urban schools. If The Children Underground gets you down, just chase it with Mad Hot Ballroom and you’ll remember what it was like being a kid again, MINUS the gold paint huffing.