The plummeting price of digital cameras and editing software, combined with the death spiral of network news, has resulted in a booming documentary offering over the past couple of Sundances. The public loves the genre, and like a William Gibson novel, it seems like everyone is now recording everything. If there's a conflict, obscure sport, or flamboyant personality you can be sure someone, somewhere, is making it into a documentary, and the result is a crop of boring-to-serviceable documentaries that are occasionally more suited for cable distribution than theatrical.
I thought for sure Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon would fall into the television news documentary category, but was pleasantly surprised that the films excellent pacing and structure made it truly a film--not a Frontline episode.
Clear Cut, tells the story of a timber town in transition: as the blue collar jobs leave, the liberal information workers move in. They bring with them some unwelcome values including what locals perceive as a pro-environment, pro-gay, and ... ... anti-tradition agenda. Of course, these values aren't debated by adults in coffee shops -- they're played out at the local high school with the kids as the pawns.
The catch is that the school is endowed by and named after the Clemens family, a conservative family that made it's fortune in logging. For the past forty years the Clemens family has offered a full college scholarship for anyone who graduates. Thousands of students have leveraged this amazingly generous offer. While the "progressive" administration at the school district holds their ground, a vindictive Clemens Family threatens to pull the scholarship program.
Will the administration cave in to the Clemens agenda in order to preserve the scholarship program? Will the Clemens family really pull the rug out from under the graduating class who are counting on their scholarship money?
It's a classic tale of tradition vs. progress, rich vs. poor, and selfish adults--on both sides--putting kids last.
Clear Cut is well done, engaging, and one of my favorite films from the Sundance Festival so far.