Film: First Position (2011)
Cast includes: Aran Bell, Gaya Bonner Yemini, Michaela Deprince, Miko Fogarty, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora
Director: Bess Kargman (first feature film)
Genre: Documentary (90 minutes)
As they clear the stage for the Youth America Grand Prix competition, we get a brief introduction to some of the young dancers who will be competing. Aran is 11. He started dancing when he was four because he loved it. At home, you're likely to see him on a pogo stick or a skateboard. But he shows us some of his other "toys." The foot stretcher "hurts a lot." There's a gizmo that helps him exercise his toes. His teacher is "very strict... not mean strict. But when you do something wrong, he corrects you... and sometimes it's painful." Aran comes from a military family. They've moved a lot and made many sacrifices so that Aran can study with the best teachers... this year in Rome.
In Philadelphia we meet Michaela. Born in Sierra Leone, Michaela's lucky just to be alive. When the Deprinces were adopting a girl named Mia, they noticed another little girl with a bad case of vitiligo. Because of the spots on her skin, no one wanted her. During the civil war, Michaela saw unimaginable brutality. When her parents were shots by the rebels, she was put in an orphanage. When she later saw a photo of a ballerina... beautiful and pink... she decided that was her dream. But there are those who tell her white parents, "Everyone knows black girls can't dance ballet." Joan Sebastian's parents were glad he had ballet because it kept him off the streets. But in Colombia, ballet is a dead end. Fortunately, he was able to study in New York. "Are you eating well?" his mom asks over the phone. "You have to work hard because there's nothing for you in Colombia," his dad says. The three others featured in the film are just as compelling.
The competition starts with about 5,000 kids from around the world, narrows them down to 300 who compete in the finals... and from those, about 30 will win scholarships, prizes and positions in prestigious dance companies. Most of these kids have known since they were six or seven that they wanted to be professional dancers. So this isn't just a contest, it's their life. Studying ballet takes a huge commitment -- not to mention the cost. So the scholarships may change the course of their lives. Shoes alone can cost $80 a day. When you see their feet, you can understand why shoes take such a beating! In addition to the personal stories, we watch some amazing ballet. Some of those in the competition will undoubtedly go on to have impressive careers. But for now, everything is riding on a five minute performance.
3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
So much ballet talent... so few winners
Audience: Kids to Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking
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