Saturday, June 16, 2007

Silverdocs Festival at AFI

I was out of town this week, so only made it to the last day of the Silverdocs film festival. Next year, I'll do my best to see it all. In just five years, it has become the top documentary festival in the US, possibly the world. The two films I saw today happened to have similar themes -- they were both about children and competition. Both were excellent.

"Doubletime" is like a cross between "Spellbound" and "Rize," the story of two Carolina teams that go to New York to compete at the Apollo Theater in the National Double Dutch competition. Jump-roping has been divided for decades between single (skipping) -- mostly white -- and double (double dutch) -- mostly black. Everything comes together in Harlem as American kids of both races take on some tough new competitors -- from Japan.

In "Please Vote for Me," third graders compete in a hotly contested election to be elected class monitor. In China. Previously, class monitors had always been selected by the teachers. But one classroom was persuaded to try "democracy." Three students are nominated and the next thing you know they are surrounded by their own Karl Roves and James Carvilles -- parents who help them try to buy votes and write their speeches and classmates who heckle their friends' opponents. It is hilarious when the eight year olds replicate the emotions and tactics of adult campaigns -- but with less ability to hide their ploys and emotions. And it is touching when we see how much it matters to them -- everyone breaks down in tears at some point. As much determined by the one-child culture as by the communism, it is an enticing glimpse of a world both familiar and exotic.

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